** Review copy disclaimer: I received an advance copy of this novel from NetGalley in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. I was in no way compensated by the publisher or author. **
Description: 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.
Review: The latest novel from horror juggernaut Jonathan Janz, one of my favourite writers, kicks off with a writer, Lucy, who is on her way to a writers’ retreat and it doesn’t take long for the tension to kick right in. The novel quickly turns into Survivor the television series meets Battle Royale the film (2000) but for writers, and it’s intense to say the least.
The egos of many of the writers in this book were one of the most truly frightening things for me (seriously), and this is definitely one of those novels where the human element is far scarier than any monster. Writers and non-writers alike will definitely feel tense and uncomfortable throughout as the story advances and the stakes get increasingly higher. Just when you think things couldn’t possibly get worse, they keep going and the tension becomes unbearable at points.
Personally, I have always found the idea of some writers’ retreats to be disquieting and not something I would feel comfortable doing, and I’m not going to get into all of the reasons why, but let’s just say it was difficult for me to read through a manifestation of all those fears amplified to the nth degree.
The scares in this book are downright terrifying while the growing madness that enfolds these writers is palpable and all too real. Additionally, the creativity and inventiveness of the trials that the writers endure is notable.
All of the deepest, most sinister things these writers thought they had safely tucked away come screaming to the forefront and they will not be denied.
In addition, the diary entries were a cool narrative device and went into interesting directions. This enhanced the feeling of tension in this book, which is a constant, and it’s unrelenting. It pulls no punches.
There’s a danger of books like this revolving around petty feuds and overdramatic nonsense that belongs in a reality show, but Jonathan Janz has achieved a new level of mastery in horror with The Dark Game. Equal parts Lord of the Flies mixed with The Girl on the Train with a cast of unreliable and shifty personalities, this novel belongs with the best thrillers on the bookshelf and should be on yours, stat.
About the Author: Jonathan Janz is the author of more than a dozen novels and numerous short stories. His work has been championed by authors like Joe R. Lansdale, Jack Ketchum, and Brian Keene; he has also been lauded by Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, and School Library Journal. His ghost story The Siren and the Specter was selected as a Goodreads Choice nominee for Best Horror. Additionally, his novel Children of the Dark was chosen by Booklist as a Top Ten Horror Book of the Year. Jonathan’s main interests are his wonderful wife and his three amazing children. You can sign up for his newsletter and you can follow him on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Amazon, and Goodreads.