The Dark Game by Jonathan Janz

TLDR: Deliciously dark and imaginative, ten writers are brought off the grid for a prestigious competition. Little did they know the competition is more than they bargained for and they would fight for their lives. If you are a fan of horror, then you need to pick this one up.

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CONTENT WARNINGS: abuse, bullying, domestic abuse, fat shaming, gore, murder, pedophilia (referenced), rape, suicide, voyeurism


“I learned that stories have incredible power. They can teach. They can transport. But they can also bring misery. They can enslave. Some stories can kill.”

Friends, I have been itching for a new release from Janz since being wowed by The Siren and the Specter last year. I’ve been reading his backlist voraciously and I was so happy to be offered an eARC of this title. I was not disappointed: The Dark Game is deliciously macabre and unputdownable; while I struggled with the multiple perspectives at first, I settled into the narrative and was fully engrossed!

“Wells’s mansion looked like every ghost story he’d ever read. And as they drew closer, Rick couldn’t shake the feeling he was about to become part of one.”

One of my favorite writing devices is when the ending is set up or heavily alluded to at the beginning of the book. I love the sense of foreboding behind every chapter as I try to piece together what is happening, and as a person that adamantly avoids spoilers like a cat avoids water this is one of the greatest mysteries of my psyche. From the beginning of the book we know that The Dark Game is to pit the authors against one another as they fight for their lives. The deaths aren’t a surprise, we are just left wondering who will be first. The journey is following the characters as they notice all the weird things happening and trying to figure it out… and will they make it out alive?

“Get out while you still can.”

The opening of the book felt very And Then There Were None and Clue inspired to me, with everyone making their way to a mansion after a mysterious invitation and an absent host. I almost expected Mr. Body to show up!

I just have to say that I would have definitely noped out of this whole thing when the driver said that I needed to be blindfolded! But I like that Janz calls this out in the first pages:

“It occurred to her she hadn’t even asked the driver for identification. No one knew she was here, and she wasn’t allowed a phone. She chewed a thumbnail, a hundred horror movies flashing through her head. Why was it always a women who got hacked to pieces?”

While Janz definitely writes this one with a male character set as the hero, I like the subversion of the typical horror trope here and that the women he writes aren’t completely helpless.

We all know that I personally struggle with multiple points of view, and so it shouldn’t come as a shock that it took some time for me to settle into the story (primarily until a few POVs died). This is very much a me thing, and the multiple narrative voices makes sense given the And Then There Were None setup. If Roderick Wells has his way, only one of the writers will survive and getting to know each of the characters (and their deepest secrets) really added to the horror for me in the back half of the book. My struggle with the many perspectives was well worth it as writers began dropping like flies, which is similar to my experience reading The Sorrows (interestingly enough, if you’ve read a number of Janz’s other works you’ll find some Easter eggs: Shadeland, Siren and the Specter, needing to go away to find inspiration, etc. It’s like reading Vonnegut and I dig it.).

“This place… this place… is a wonderland of hideous beauty. Of dreadful passion. The water that flows on this property is laced with the elixir of madness, the trees nourished by the blood of the damned.”

There is something almost comforting about Janz’s writing style, which is a weird thing to say about a horror author but it’s true. It’s fast-paced and intricately plotted, but he doesn’t forget about building his characters in all the gore. And while this is a horror novel, it is also one about the fears and struggles of being a writer. The critique process, competitiveness, and the publishing industry. I really appreciated seeing a glimpse into how the characters thought about developing their stories and characters.

Overall this is another amazing read from Janz! I found the beginning to be a little slower and denser to read as a result of having so many characters to keep track of and struggled with the multiple points of view, but as people die and the action picked up I was completely engrossed. Janz knows how to craft a horrific tale and this is yet another must-read for fans of the horror genre. As with other books in this genre, this won’t be a tale for everyone so please read my list of content warnings and exercise care when reading.

CONTENT WARNINGS: abuse, bullying, domestic abuse, fat shaming, gore, murder, pedophilia (referenced), rape, suicide, voyeurism

Many thanks to Flame Tree Press for sending me an eARC via NetGalley for my honest review! Quotes are taken from an unfinished ARC and may not match final publication.

The Dark Game by Jonathan JanzGoodreads Synopsis

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.


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Hi! I’m Kaleena: book lover, runner, wanderer, and philanthropist. Life is an adventurous gift: through the outdoors and books. I run Reader Voracious Blog, where I post spoiler-free book reviews of science fiction, fantasy, speculative fiction, and mystery & thriller.

17 thoughts on “The Dark Game by Jonathan Janz

  1. No Kal, please, you make this sound so good and I know if I read it I’ll probably scare myself. Do you know what point it was in your review where I was like ‘damn it now I want to read it’? The opening of the book felt very And Then There Were None and Clue inspired to me, with everyone making their way to a mansion after a mysterious invitation and an absent host. I almost expected Mr. Body to show up!< There, and it wasn't even like halfway in! Speaking of which I bought Spark of White Fire, I've preordered the Electric Heir for kindle, and I'm afraid to read your reviews now.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Muahahahahahaa! If you are a wimp you may want to steer clear though, this definitely doesn’t exude Clue the Movie vibes. But YAY for buying Spark of White Fire, that book is so good and I ao due for a re-read so let me know when you plan to read it! And hell YES on Electric Heir, I need that book yesterday.

      Liked by 1 person

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