Book Reviews

{Review} THE DARK GAME, by Jonathan Janz

Published by Flame Tree Press Genres: Dark Fiction, Fiction, Horror, Mystery, Occult & Supernatural, Paranormal, Supernatural, Suspense, Thriller
Format: eBook

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.

4.5 Stars!

Buy on Amazon 

Horror After Dark Review

THE DARK GAME, by Jonathan Janz, is a novel that takes ten struggling writers–each aspiring to be the next to land a bestseller–on what they think is their chance of a lifetime. Each of them will meet and stay for a time with the extraordinarily successful, yet eccentric, Roderic Wells. The last time Wells extended an invitation to a group of authors, one of them became successful beyond her wildest dreams!

The catch? Only one of them can win the prize money and contract.

“MR. RODERICK WELLS requests the honor of your presence at his estate on May 26th for a six-week writing retreat . . . “ 

The concept of an author writing about writers going on a “writing retreat” isn’t a new one, but Janz is able to take virtually any idea and turn it into something captivating and completely his own.

“. . . Everything begins with horror.” 

The atmosphere is set right from the start. The dynamics between each “contestant” has been carefully studied and applied to make their arrival as unsettling as possible. They are not there to forge friendships, but rather set out to one-up arch other in every manner possible. This tactic serves to help keep them mentally isolated as much as possible–even as they are physically separated from the rest of the world by the infinite expanse of Well’s hidden, foreboding estate.

“. . . Well’s mansion looked like every ghost story he’d ever read . . . “ 

Even beginning with this rather large cast of characters, I felt that Janz did a good job in giving them some distinguishing traits and characteristics. Admittedly, there were a couple that were merely “throw-away” characters, in my opinion, but even those had a backstory we were privy to, and completely necessary to further the plot.

“Just what the hell did happen to the other nine writers in the first contest?” 

One thing I especially loved was how TRUE so many of the statements in this novel were. Things that were simply stated, could often be so profoundly accurate.

“. . . stories have incredible power. They can teach. They can transport . . . Some stories can kill.” 

While being introduced little by little to the . . . differences . . . in Well’s homestead, we get a chance to know the majority of the characters very well. These individuals–like so many of my favorites in literature–are all flawed. This serves to make them even more realistic to the reader. Their fears, their desires, their shortcomings . . . these are all things that some of us will be able to sympathize and identify with. While we are learning the inner feelings of the contestants and others on this estate, another, larger part of the novel is moving inexorably forward.

“. . . There was no doubt Well’s estate was . . . different. Mysterious things happened here, things he had trouble explaining . . . “ 

Another enjoyable feature here that may be noted by those that have read some of Janz’ other novels, is some “internal referencing” to his works that the contestants are contemplating writing about. While this knowledge is in no way necessary, it certainly put a smile on my face when I was able to visualize a “story idea” that had already been fully fleshed out. A treat to some, and perhaps an added incentive for others to explore some previous titles.

“. . . No one is more honest than the storyteller . . . They have the ability to create life . . . Or to bring death.” 

Overall, I feel that Janz is growing stronger as an author with each new book he produces. He’s able to layer an idea with complex characters, multiple, intersecting storylines, and yet in such a way that serves to pull the reader into the worlds he creates–almost making them feel a “part” of the tale. In THE DARK GAME Janz showcases this ability to virtually bring his characters to life, endowing them with full pasts, and future goals. They all have regrets from earlier mistakes which makes them easier to identify with as individuals. He can take what could be a magical, fairy tale setting and turn it into something twisted and malevolent with only a few words.

“. . . a place of magic . . . But the magic was of the darkest, most demented sort . . . “ 

Janz is an author whose voice is now being heard above so many others. With his dramatic storylines and three-dimensional characters, his novels are among those that I will be seeking out in the future.

“Do you believe in monsters?” 

Highly recommended.

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 (http://jonathanjanz.us12.list-manage….), and you can follow him on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Amazon, and Goodreads.


I am an avid reader/reviewer and collector of books--primarily horror, supernatural, and supernatural-themed thrillers.

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