TITLE: The Dark Game | AUTHOR: Jonathan Janz| PUBLISHER: Flame Tree Press | PUBLISHED ON: April 11, 2019 | PAGES: 304|
RATING: 3 hooks out of 5 | SOURCE: Copy provided by publisher for review consideration.
I’m still fairly new to the Janz game. I read, and absolutely loved, The Siren and the Spectre last year, and it easily made my top 5 books of 2018. So I had very, very high expectations for my second read of his. Sadly I think these extremely high expectations are part of what led to my disappointment here. While The Dark Game has some great points, I was ultimately left feeling underwhelmed and, at times, pretty annoyed with this novel.
First, the good. I really loved the premise of this novel. Ten authors are invited to a secret writers’ competition hosted by a reclusive but genius author, with promises of fame and fortune for the winning writer. Of course not all is as it seems, and there’s a dark undercurrent to the contest that leaves the authors competing for more than just a cash prize. The setting of this novel is perfect. Who doesn’t love a creepy, crumbling mansion set in a secluded forest? It really set the tone for the story early on, and was probably my favorite part of the book. Without giving too much away, the twists that occur here are also fantastic and well executed. The details unfold slowly enough to build a wonderful suspense, but with punches of action throughout that prevent the reader from figuring out the end game miles ahead of the characters of the novel. I also appreciated the little Easter eggs and nods to Janz’ other novels, those are always a fun little tidbit to come across!
Now for the not so good. I found the characters to be extremely lacking. This was especially disappointing given how strong I felt the characters were in The Siren and the Spectre. Here, most of the characters felt like cardboard cut-outs rather than fleshed out people. I think part of this is just the nature of starting off with such a large cast of characters, but even a little bit more personality would have gone a very long way for each of the characters. As it stands, it really lowered the stakes of the novel for me. I figured out which characters were likely to make it to the end within the first couple of chapters because they were the only ones with any depth, and for the rest, I wasn’t all that invested in their deaths because I didn’t have enough to go on to feel invested in their lives first. There was also a lot of weird sex stuff that’s largely only mentioned in passing, but in a way that made me roll my eyes a little. It was clear that a lot of it was meant to be for shock value, and while certain sections made me uncomfortable, I don’t think it was for the reasons the author intended. I don’t mind sex and sexuality in my books, but it has to be well done. Unfortunately in this case, every instance was unremarkable at best, and completely cringe-inducing at worse. And would it really be a Literary Hooker review if I didn’t complain about a romance being thrown in for good measure? Because I’m gonna: this book didn’t need a romance element. It didn’t add much (except more awkward sex talk) and I kind of hate the idea that male and female characters can only experience deep bonds if those bonds are romantic and/or sexual. Boo.
The second half of the novel really did pick things up for me. Once the cast of characters was narrowed down a bit, it was easier for me to connect with the remaining characters and I really got into the story. The story goes into new and unique places in the last 100 pages or so that I really enjoyed There are tons of excellent twists and reveals in the latter part of the book, which certainly won me back a little bit. But it was too little too late for me to really fall in love with this one. It’s too bad, because there was SO MUCH to like about the second half, but the first half was so flat that I was already one foot out the door, making it that much harder for the book to draw me back in.
Maybe I’m partially to blame for my own disappointment because I couldn’t stop myself from comparing this novel to The Siren and the Spectre. Maybe if I’d read this one first, I would have enjoyed it more. But it was impossible not to hold this book to the high standards I KNOW Janz is capable of, and sadly it didn’t come anywhere near reaching the bar I’d set for it in my mind. This book had a ton of potential, which made it all the more disappointing when it failed to deliver. I’m glad I chose to finish the novel (I came close to DNFing it a couple of times) as it did redeem itself to an extent in the last half, but honestly I don’t see this one sticking with me for very long.