REPRIEVE JAMES HAN MATTSON **
Most people didn't make it to Cell Six, he said. Most called out the safe word - reprieve - after the first Cell. It was that intense.
When Bryan, Jaidee, Victor and Jane team up to compete at a full-contact escape room, it seems simple. Hold your nerve through six terrifying challenges; collect all the red envelopes; win a huge cash prize.
But the real horror is unfolding outside of the game, in a series of deceits and misunderstandings fuelled by obsession and prejudice. And by the end of the night, one of the contestants will be dead.
THE REVIEW **
I am a fan of escape rooms and always get excited over the prospect of a horror or crime thriller book using them as their setting. Reprieve, telling the story of a full-contact horror escape room gone wrong seemed like my exact cup of tea and I was so excited to have it on my TBR.
Those who have read my blog know that my downfall with a book is to get my hopes up and Reprieve was no exception I’m afraid to say. First let’s examine the setting - the thing that I love most about escape rooms are the puzzles, the riddles, the keys, the mini-games and the hidden secret rooms. The escape room in Reprieve is actually pretty boring. Each ‘cell’ is just a themed room with some actors in it and the goal for every room is to find a few envelopes. That’s it. There’s a lot of fake blood and the actors are dressed in full horror costumes and can beat the contestants with sticks but on the whole it seems to be a pretty boring game. As such the chapters based in the room (of which, frustratingly are surprisingly few) just don’t seem very engaging. They are also really badly written, to the point where I was actually struggling to picture what some of the basic rooms looked like.
Then we move onto my next issue - I was expecting the book to be based in the escape room itself, or at least to have the majority of chapters about the experience which is apparently so hard and so scary that only one team has ever made it all the way through. However, this book contains a few chapters on the escape room, a few chapters with court transcripts about the events that occurred there and then a lot of character exposition and flashbacks. We get in depth chapters from three characters; Kendra a black student who works at the house, Leonard a disturbed man who is deeply troubled and gay international student Jaidee. Kendra is the only likeable character in the whole story, but she is presented in such a generic way that I didn’t really feel much towards her. Jaidee is immensely dislikeable – shallow, racist and easily obsessed. I really didn’t enjoy reading the chapters in his perspective at all. Leonard is sexist and also easily obsessed – trying desperately to get his Thai ‘girlfriend’ to come to the US to live with him. Jane and Victor who are also in the escape room team are not really explored at all and Bryan, who should have been a central character based on the plot arch is also not really presented in a well-rounded or interesting way. There’s one character we meet who actually we would have benefitted from reading chapters in their perspective but we are denied this and it really muddies the ending and left me confused as to their motives. I think perhaps if we were given a chapter at the end from their perspective rather than the epilogue that was presented it would have made a lot more sense but instead many questions are left unanswered.
Overall Reprieve is a bit of a mess - there isn’t enough escape room content and the focus is more of dislikeable characters and a climax which made little sense in the context of the plot. Thank you to NetGalley & Bloomsbury Publishing for the chance to read the ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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