Black Chalk by Christopher J. Yates

One game. Six students. Five survivors.   17316561

It was only ever meant to be a game.

A game of consequences, of silly forfeits, childish dares. A game to be played by six best friends in their first year at Oxford University. But then the game changed: the stakes grew higher and the dares more personal, more humiliating, finally evolving into a vicious struggle with unpredictable and tragic results.

Now, fourteen years later, the remaining players must meet again for the final round. – Goodreads.com

This was a difficult book for me to read.  Not because I don’t enjoy dark, psychological thrillers, but because the tone was so heavy throughout the majority of the story, it almost became a chore to finish.

The description caught my interest immediately – six best friends, implying they obviously know each other well, inventing dares that become more personal and humiliating throughout the game.  Interesting concept, although none of the characters were particularly likable, making it nearly impossible to find anyone to cheer for.  At the beginning, they seemed so young and naive, full of themselves, living in a bubble.  It was hard to watch them spiral from friendship into what they eventually became, although the group dynamics were fascinating at times.  It’s very true that those closest to you can do the most damage.

There were a couple of major twists in the book, one closer to the beginning and one near the end, that made the story more interesting, but I guessed them both ahead of time.  The writing flowed pretty well, but with the narrative switching between first person to third person and present day to past, occasionally I wondered who was talking and in what year.

I also struggled with the character development.  The students all had their own distinct personalities established early on; however, it seemed as if they suddenly turned into someone else during the game, with no natural progression.  In one paragraph they underwent an abrupt transformation into a different character.  The explanation of who the three game “moderators” really were was completely unsatisfying and I just couldn’t buy into it.

Parts of this book were enjoyable and I’m glad I read it, but I felt as if some of the story line didn’t play out as the author intended.  Black Chalk is scheduled for publication April 1, 2014.

This review is based on a digital ARC from the publisher through NetGalley.

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