Title: The Assassin Game
Author: Kirsty McKay
Pub. Date: August 2nd, 2016
Genre: YA, Mystery, Thriller, Contemporary
Summary from Goodreads:
Who will be left after lights out?
At Cate’s isolated boarding school, Killer is more than a game- it’s an elite secret society. Members must avoid being “Killed” during a series of thrilling pranks, and only the Game Master knows who the “Killer” is. When Cate’s finally invited to join the Assassins’ Guild, she know it’s her ticket to finally feeling like she belongs.
But when the game becomes all too real, the school threatens to shut it down. Cate will do anything to keep playing and save the Guild. But can she find the real assassin before she’s the next target?
Originally published in the United Kingdom by Chicken House in 2015 under title: Killer game.
The Assassin Game sounds epic, thrilling, and dangerous, right? That kinda story that keeps you up at night and gives you goosebumps, the one that scares you but the thrill makes you keep reading because you just have to know who the bad guy is? Yeah, I thought so too.
Umfraville is a boarding school for geniuses, and for some reason the school lets the seniors play this “Killer” game every year (it’s never mentioned why, unfortunately). To get in, you are chosen and have to go through a humiliating, probably disgusting initiation test, and then you’re a part of the group, where one of you is a killer and you are all the victims to be picked off one by one. But don’t forget about the rules: Nobody actually gets hurt, keep the kills on the down low or else the game might be shut down, and do not tell anybody you’re the killer. This is an innocent, prank filled game. That is, until people start getting hurt.
Now, is a psychopath in a school full of geniuses really that unbelievable? I mean, playing a game where there’s a killer and a bunch of victims is pretty much the perfect play ground for them, and it’s easy to take advantage of it when you can buy or manipulate yourself into the game. I expected it, and so it wasn’t surprising or engaging for me.
There’s a lot that happens so that the plot seems as if it’s moving fast, but it’s not. The first half of the book is pretty much just information about the school, characters, and the game. Some kills are made, but nothing too bad, and no one is dead or injured yet as the synopsis hints. It’s exciting though, because the pranks are fun and the fear of our MC, Cate, is a bit hilarious. The pranks themselves are rather mediocre, but the effect they have is somewhat fun. Overall, the first half is pretty lighthearted and informative, but not overly so.
The second half however is where all the fun begins. Yes, the real kills begin! Characters are getting injured and it’s clear who the killer wants dead, and the mystery of who the killer is intensified. It’s like a detective novel, only our MC doesn’t figure it out until it’s right in front of her. Now, as much as I enjoy reading about violence and mystery, I found I didn’t really care. I could easily put the book down and not pick it up again without knowing who the killer is. I almost did. But I wanted to see what the killer would do next, how bloody things would get. The mystery of figuring out who the killer is drove this story however, so after the initial quick kills in the beginning, the rest have a long pause between them which dragged and prevented my satisfaction of bloody, violent murders after bloody, violent murders.
The second half also felt rushed however, particularly the ending. The overall tone and atmosphere changes to fit the plot, and it ends up feeling unfinished.
They’re okay. I found that they are inconsistent, their tone/voice changes in the second half merely to help the plot progress.
Vaughn, Cate’s childhood best friend that she ended up abandoning, makes and appearance pretty quickly. He comes off as a really creepy dude, always giggling and saying things he shouldn’t know anything about. He also seems to hold a grudge against Cate for abandoning him, and that becomes clear once Cate herself says she knows he wouldn’t forgive her so easily. To be honest, he comes off like a psychopath who wanted to hunt down his old best friend for shits and giggle. This was his personality in the first half of the book. In the second half, he giggles less, is intelligent and kind (helps Kate try to figure out who the killer is), he stills knows things he shouldn’t but he no longer comes off as creepy or psychotic, and he becomes a romantic interest. This change makes sense in general because you assume a lot of character development has occurred. Wrong. Either way, he wasn’t a bad character. I wish he stayed creepy because I enjoyed that immensely, but I could stand him until the end.
Cate is a different story. She is dramatic, overreacts, and I couldn’t fall into her narrative like I wish I could. Cate is the kind of girl who is normal, average looking, only has two friends, parents who don’t really talk to her, and she’s the girl who made out with the guy everyone wants, but didn’t go chasing after him begging for more. She tries to be a detective and figure out who the killer is, but she honestly doesn’t do much and she doesn’t figure it out until it’s starting her in the face. She’s alright in the first half even so, and I didn’t find myself hating her, thought I didn’t really care either. However, in the second half she completely changes. She falls in love and practically goes crazy. Her narrative changes so suddenly I didn’t think it was still her. This was the main change that seemed to take place merely for plot progression.
Daniel is creepy, and seems to have two personalities. His character doesn’t always feel natural, especially when he has his “mood swings”, as Cate calls them.
I won’t comment on any others. Overall, I wasn’t attached or rooting for anyone, but I didn’t hate anyone either.
As mentioned above, the first half and second half of the story feel inconsistent because the writing tone changed. It was rushed. This book had a lot of promise for creepy and dark, and the author did a good job of writing the mystery and fear of it all, but because the mystery overshadowed everything else I didn’t really care about it.
Since the author focused so much on the mystery and intrigue, the hunt for answers, the characters fell a little flat (mainly in the second half). The world-building was pretty good though, because the mystery revolved around the school and island it’s on, with all the hiding places and secrets caves.
The Assassin Game is effectively mysterious and dangerous, and definitely has a bit of creep factor. It’s still interesting to read despite the sudden shift in tone though and so while this definitely isn’t a favourite of mine, and I don’t highly recommend it, I say give it a try if it sounds good to you.