“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. “
Set to be published on 5th October, Reprieve by James Han Mattson follows Bryan, Jaidee, Victor and Jane, who team up to compete at a full-contact escape room. I 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.
Thank you to NetGalley for a free advance copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
With an intriguing premise set alongside a thought-provoking social commentary, I was really excited by the premise of this book, as the setting of a full-contact escape room sounds like a scary but thrilling place to base a story. I was expecting, goosebumps, chills, and gore. But this is definitely not the intense and addictive horror story that I was expecting.
The scenes set in the escape room are great, but they are sparse. Instead, this story is more character-driven. The first 80% of it is spent getting to know these characters, but you don’t know their link, what’s going on, or why you should care about these – frankly very irritating – characters.
When you eventually see the connection between the characters and find out what’s going on, things do get interesting. I really enjoyed the final few chapters of the book, but I just felt so disconnected for the rest of the book, not knowing where the story was going or why these characters mattered, that it didn’t make it up to me.
What you will hear a lot about this book is that it’s a “blisteringly relevant literary novel” and a “chilling portrait of American life”, with a “searing social criticism” of our racial prejudices and stereotypes. It’s obvious that Korean author James Han Mattson has something to say, and there were certain points that I took on board. But for the most part, it fails to make a point.
This is most definitely a book that some readers will take away more from than others. I really enjoyed the horror aspects, but I wanted a lot more of that side of the story. Maybe that does say more about our obsession with fear as entertainment, but that’s what I like to read fiction for.
I fear that my dislike for these characters has blindsided my opinion of this book and I hate to be so negative, but it really just wasn’t for me. If you enjoy a social commentary running through your thrillers, then you’re likely to appreciate it a lot more, so do take my review with a pinch of salt!
Reprieve by James Han Mattson
Release Date: 5th October 2021
Print Length: 395 pages
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing