Title: The Dark Game
Author: Jonathan Janz
Edition: Paperback ARC
Page Count: 304 pages
Rating: 4.5 / 5 ✨✨✨✨
Ten writers are selected for a summer-long writing retreat with the most celebrated and reclusive author in the world. Their host is the legendary Roderick Wells. Handsome, enigmatic, and fiendishly talented, Wells promises to teach his pupils about writing, about magic, about the untapped potential that each of them possesses. Most of all, he plans to teach them about the darkness in their hearts. The writers think they are signing up for a chance at riches and literary prestige. But they are really entering the twisted imagination of a deranged genius, a lethal contest pitting them against one another in a struggle for their sanity and their lives. They have entered into Roderick Wells’s most brilliant and horrible creation. The Dark Game.
“No one is more honest than the storyteller. No one has greater power. They have the ability to create life. Or to bring death.”
THE DARK GAME is my second book by Janz, read after last year’s THE SIREN AND THE SPECTER release, and I’m pretty convinced he can do no wrong. His writing style is one of my favorites – concise enough to get big things across with few words, but also with a depth to to it that really allows readers to connect with the characters and their struggles. Flame Tree Press is an incredible publisher that’s been putting out rereleases of some of Janz’s older work, as well as a couple new things – which has been amazing for a certain horror-loving rainbow!
I love stories about characters that receive mysterious invitations to fancy, big houses – there are so many movies and books that use the same setup, and I gobble them up eagerly, loving the Agatha Christie-ness of it all. Despite using a pretty well-loved trope as the catalyst for the main plot, THE DARK GAME manages to be both original and inventive in its execution, resulting in an extremely fun and fast-paced thrill ride.
Stories about writers are some of my favorites, especially when bits and pieces of the story they’re writing are shown throughout. When reading King’s MISERY, I felt like it was a story within a story, and I feel like that about this, too. Learning about each individual character, their writing styles/subjects, and even things that inspired them or shaped them – some defining moments that are a big part of the book’s main plot, so I won’t go into a lot of detail here – were all so personal and varied. No two characters felt alike to me, each one stood on their own legs, fully fleshed out. Even some of the more minor characters seemed to have a life of their own, surprising me a lot toward the end.
Despite this one having numerous “main” characters, I only had trouble keeping them straight in the very beginning. By the middle-to-end of the book, I knew who was speaking by dialogue alone, without being told – which is a pretty amazing feat for a writer to accomplish to someone like me, who stopped watching Lost because I couldn’t keep anyone straight (and I could see them on the screen!). Janz’s characters are real and flawed, and I suspect a lot of the ones from THE DARK GAME are heavily influenced by people Janz has known in his life – maybe even himself? I really liked the little nods to other writers and books, even some of Janz’s own past work. A story about writers is bound to have mention of other writers, so I found these references to be believable to the story.
Overall, this was a great read, and I’m really looking forward to the small pile of Janz’s other books that I’ve got waiting for me – he’s definitely one to watch out for if you haven’t been already, and if you’ve not yet read any of his works, I’d highly recommend them!
Huge thanks to Flame Tree Press for the ARC in exchange for an honest review of the book, and be sure to check them out as well – they have loads of good stuff going on!