The Dark Game – Jonathan Janz
Reviewed By Brian Bogart
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.
Jonathan Janz, who just recently blew me and many others away with The Siren and the Specter, brings us another delve into the world of horror with his newest, The Dark Game.
That premise above has been used countless times (granted, with just as many character tropes and variations) in the genre. I personally have always enjoyed premises like this. In the right hands, it gives a writer a chance to stretch, dive into the heads of the characters and create a dastardly villain using them as pawns to his own narcissistic delight. It’s a classic set-up, and knowing that Janz has the writing chops to make me turn the page- I started the first few chapters almost immediately upon receiving this ARC in the mail. (Apologies to my TBR pile)
Now, we do have quite a list of characters in this list. Some readers may find that daunting at first, but it’s worth it. Janz has a story to tell here and it requires each author’s unwitting participation. It also gives the author the perfect vehicle to jump into different personas and their stories (both literal and figurative, given that they are all writers themselves). And they all have a past. And delicious secrets prime for the Dark Game of Roderick Wells.
It’s those stories that are integral to the horror. Their writing and back stories are the fuel for the dark powers at play and it is up to them to conquer, confront or ultimately fail. Given that many “protagonists”, some must inevitably fail. I mean, there can be only one winner- and let me tell you: as a writer myself, the idea of authors suffering and tortured by their own fallacies and creations was entertaining as hell.
This novel also showcases his knowledge of the writing craft itself, but what I really admired was the little easter eggs sprinkled throughout. If you have a passing knowledge of famous authors and even Janz himself- there is a nod or two there to make you grin. The fact that the premise itself plays out like a wicked game of Clue/Cluedo to a degree and takes inspiration from Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, caused this reader to nod my head and smile as the game unfolded.
What about the spook factor? The dead bodies? The blood….?
Come on. This is Janz we’re talking about. OF COURSE there’s some of the good stuff. He does those old Leisure horror books from the genre’s heyday proud.
Not only that, but I’m gonna dare you to find a favorite character. Cool. Did you pick one, maybe even two? Alright then. Become invested. Start to really root for them. And now pray they don’t become a decomposing corpse or worse as the shit hits the fan. Because Janz isn’t afraid to kill his darlings. Or yours.
The Dark Game showcases a great many things, but the most lasting impression is the assured approach to spinning a tale Janz has when behind the keyboard. He feels confident and fearless here; in the dark, constantly twisting the fates of his creations. You can tell that he enjoyed writing this one, with each turn of the page.
When that kind of magic happens- it shows. It keeps you, as a reader, engaged. The game he plays may be dark, but his writing shines brightest in the shadows.
The Dark Game
Brian Bogart is an American author of dark fiction and horror/fantasy. He has written stories most of his life and has been a fan of the genre since the age of seven. His approach to storytelling is a tad macabre at times but tries to capture the nuances of the humanity and sometimes, inhumanity, beneath the surface. He supports the horror community with bloodied open arms and demonic vigor.
Dream Darkly and Keep Writing.
You can follow Brian on Twitter @DreamsDarkly
To find out more about Brian please visit his WattPad page DreamsDarklyWattpad
Please visit Brian’s Facebook page here