These Deadly Games by Diana Urban
Let’s play a game.
You have 24 hours to win. If you break my rules, she dies. If you call the police, she dies. If you tell your parents or anyone else, she dies.
Are you ready?
When Crystal Donavan gets a message on a mysterious app with a video of her little sister gagged and bound, she agrees to play the kidnapper’s game. At first, they make her complete bizarre tasks: steal a test and stuff it in a locker, bake brownies, make a prank call.
But then Crystal realizes each task is meant to hurt—and kill—her friends, one by one. But if she refuses to play, the kidnapper will kill her sister. Is someone trying to take her team out of the running for a gaming tournament? Or have they uncovered a secret from their past, and wants them to pay for what they did…
As Crystal makes the impossible choices between her friends and her sister, she must uncover the truth and find a way to outplay the kidnapper… before it’s too late.
DISCLAIMER: I received an eARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Games are Crystal Donovan’s entire life.
She’s always been the competitive sort, but more than that, games have been an escape. They’ve helped her keep her little sister away from their father’s drunken rages, and they’ve brought Crystal closer than ever to her friends. Now, if she and her friends can compete in an upcoming esports tourney, if they can win, she might even bring home enough prize money to save her house. The mortgage isn’t paying itself, after all, not even with Crystal’s mom working long shifts at the hospital to keep the Donovan family afloat.
But when Crystal receives a message that offers her a choice between playing a series of games, or letting a mysterious kidnapper kill her little sister, games aren’t the comfort they’ve always been. One task leads to another, each with unexpected consequences, and along the way, Crystal and her friends are getting hurt.
Maybe it’s meant to destroy her esports team before the tourney. Or maybe someone has discovered Crystal’s worst secret yet, and they want to see her pay. Either way, she can’t let her sister die.
It’s time to play some games.
These Deadly Games is surprisingly intense.
Sure, it starts off with a bunch of high schoolers playing an MMORPG with the hopes of competing in a major tourney, but that’s normal, right? So is an overnight field trip for the junior high kids, like Crystal’s little sister.
But hours after Crystal’s sister is supposed to be in Frost Valley, enjoying the trip, Crystal gets a video message of Caelyn bound and gagged, followed by the kidnapper’s demands: play the game, or Caelyn dies.
What began as such a simple event escalates rapidly, and the games do as well. At first, the consequences seem unconnected, but as it becomes clear that the games are meant to hurt the people Crystal loves the most. In fact, some of the games are meant to kill.
I love the way it escalates so dramatically, even if it is occasionally outlandish. It’s hard to think clearly, to put all the pieces together, because Crystal isn’t thinking clearly either. She’s dealing with deadlines and ultimatums that put her beloved little sister’s life on the line, and her only impulse is to save Caelyn, no matter what. The frantic pace is designed to confuse, and it’s pulled off extremely well in that regard.
With such a fast pace, though, there’s not as much time for characters.
I get that this is a standalone thriller, not a multi-book epic fantasy. I know we’re not going to be able to dig in particularly deep into any characters beyond the POV character. That’s simply how it goes, especially in a novel this speedy.
But I still wish we’d gotten a little more about Crystal’s friends. She’s known most of them since she was a child, and some of them even share her darkest secret. Akira, her best friend, gets a little more time and care than most, but the other members of Crystal’s close group feel less than fully developed. It’s shame, seeing as it’s their lives on the line along with Caelyn’s, even though Crystal doesn’t notice at first. Their futures are just as much at stake as the Donovan girls’, but I don’t feel nearly as strongly for them most of the time.
This is the book to pick up if you want a fast-paced thriller in your hands!
It’s a whirlwind of odd tasks that amount to grave danger, set over the course of a little more than a day or two. Simple games lead to deadly consequences, and there’s no simple option, no good way to escape the games at hand without endangering someone’s life.
If you want some contemporary peril and a competition to the death, this is the book for you. Snappy and sharp, it takes any game you could ever think of to a new level entirely.
CW: alcoholism, domestic abuse, gambling, violence, bullying, racism, loss of a loved one, disordered eating