Remember those Point Horror books that were so popular in the 80s and 90s? R.L. Stine, Christopher Pike, Diane Hoh? When I was in middle school, my school library had a little bookshelf crammed with these trashy gems, and I checked them out by the dozen. I think by the time I had my commencement ceremony, I'd read all of the titles they had in circulation.There were various themes, but my favorite was always The Deadly Party - a throwback to parlor murder mysteries and escape the room puzzles, the deadly party was all fun & games until it wasn't.
THE ASSASSIN GAME is a modern version of The Deadly Party. Set in a Welsh boarding school, it is about a game of Assassin that goes horribly wrong. I took one look at that summary and instantly requested this as an ARC, which I then proceeded to forget about until a couple days ago. I downloaded THE ASSASSIN GAME and promptly read it in a sitting.
"Killer" is their more sophisticated version of Assassin and is kind of like a cross between Assassin and Mafia. Cate, our main protagonist - who also happens to own the island the school is built on, has been angling to participate for years - membership is highly exclusive and members can only be chosen - and now, she finally has her chance, thanks to her friends Marcia and Daniel.
Her school provides the perfect gothic backdrop with its patchy wi-fi and misty shores. The rules are simple. One person is the killer. The game ends when everyone is "killed" or the killer is discovered. Players have multiple chances to guess the killer's identity, but if they're wrong, they're dead. Deaths are supposed to be funny pranks, but since this is a spin-off of The Deadly Party trope, you know that someone is going to take things too far. Which they do, obviously, with a very fatal turn.
I really found myself enjoying this book far more than I thought I would have. I'm kind of jaded when it comes to YA. I think I'm getting too old. It's harder to relate to younger characters and their decisions. I often finding myself muttering, "crazy young whippersnappers..." and shaking my head over underage tomfoolery. I was able to shelve that for this book. Killer actually sounds fun - well, not the Too Far bits, but the premise of the game itself. I could understand why Cate got caught up in the thrill of it, and why nobody wanted the game to end. The suspense was TERRIBLE.
I mean that in the best way.
However, as much as I enjoyed THE ASSASSIN GAME I have to admit, it has its flaws. The romance elements in this book seemed forced. Cate is torn between two boys - a manic genius who might also be dangerous and a mopey nerd who can't take "no" for an answer. I was not impressed with either boy - especially when one of them commits what was pretty much an act of sexual assault. The villain in this book was also cringeworthy. I'd guessed who it was halfway through. Finally, Cate's narrative is emotionless and wooden. I would have liked to have seen some genuine emotion - fear, passion, something - from her, and instead was treated with...nothing.
THE ASSASSIN GAME is a light, fun read that I think will appeal to younger teens and twenty-year-olds who are feeling nostalgic for the trashy mysteries of their youth. Honestly, getting to relive the fun of reading a book that's meant to be pure thrill and nothing else was really great. Perfect for summer. Don't go into this expecting a whole lot of suspense, but do expect to be entertained.
3 to 3.5 out of 5 stars.