I’ve been looking forward to reading one of Jonathan Janz’s novels for a while now. The buzz I’ve seen on social media about him and his work has been nothing but positive. When Flame Tree Press offered me an advance reading copy of his upcoming novel, The Dark Game, I jumped at the chance to read and review the story. It didn’t take me long to see that the hype was well-deserved.
The Dark Game concerns a legendary author named Roderick Wells, who is hosting a summer retreat for writers. Wells promises that one of the writers in attendance will be chosen as the winner, and will be guaranteed to be the next greatest thing in the literary world. Ten writers accept his invitation, but there’s a catch. They can tell no one their whereabouts or that they have received an invitation from Wells. They also are not allowed to communicate with the outside world while they are at the retreat.
One by one, the prospective authors arrive. It doesn’t take them long to learn that there’s something more going on than just a writer’s retreat. They have entered a dark game concocted by a twisted genius, a game that threatens their lives and their very sanity.
As the story progresses, the reader learns that each of the ten writers has a secret they don’t wish others to know. Those secrets are used by Wells to manipulate them into performing the roles he has set for them in his game. Since this is a horror novel, it also doesn’t take long before the first of them meets a gruesome end. One by one, they realize that not only is there going to be one winner of Roderick’s game, there will likely only be one survivor.
I enjoyed this introduction to Janz’s writing. From the beginning, I appreciated his style. Janz wastes no time clueing in the reader as to what’s going on. Indeed, he makes it all perfectly clear with the very first sentence of the story:
Lucy sat in the back of the limo, blindfolded, unaware she was entering the nightmarish plot of a madman instead of a writer’s retreat.
Janz developed the characters bit by bit, revealing their true natures. The first impressions formed in the reader’s mind as he is introduced to the characters get stripped away, much like peeling an onion. Some of the characters could have used more backstory, and there were changes in character motivations that I felt were a bit rushed. Overall, though, the plot was engaging and I eagerly read as the story unfolded.
One word of warning: The Dark Game lives up to its name. There are some truly darkly horrific scenes in the book, and while I wouldn’t consider it to be extreme, nonetheless the story is not for the faint of heart. No real spoilers, but not since I saw the movie “It’s Alive” back in the seventies has there been the potential of a story giving me a nightmare featuring infants. You’ll see what I mean when you read this tale.
The Dark Game will be released on April 11, 2019. Fans of horror fiction, mark that date on your calendars. See you at the bookstore!
NOTE: I was provided an advance reading copy of The Dark Game by Flame Tree Press, in exchange for an honest review. I was not given any compensation for writing the review, and the opinions stated therein are my own.