Hi friends! I’m going to be candid here: I really don’t want to write this review. This book wasn’t very good and I have a migraine and I’m not sure that I want to sit down and slash this book to pieces. Thus, forgive me if this review is a little shorter than most; I’d rather pretend that this book didn’t happen. I’ve also changed around my TBR list to accommodate some ARCs I’ve been sent, so check that out if you’re keeping up with my list.
Synopsis & Quick Thoughts
Black Chalk is a thriller written by Christopher J. Yates that takes place at Oxford University. Six friends come together to play an elaborate game with dares of increasing stakes and unintended consequences. Years later, they come together to play one final round.
I read this book because I thought it was a thriller, or a mystery, or horror, or SOMETHING. I don’t even know how to categorize this book because it isn’t any of those things. At the very least, I was hoping for dark academia, but even that is a stretch in my opinion. I guess…heavy contemporary? This novel was a slog and it’s a real shame because the idea itself was really cool and could have gone in a lot of different directions. There were times where I felt an iota of suspense every time I was sorely let down. If I had better expectations for what this book was going to be, I might have enjoyed it more; for now, I feel very let down.
Now, there are a couple of things that I enjoyed in Black Chalk, the primary one being the friendship between the main characters in the first half or so of the book. The dynamics between each of the characters was fun and interesting, and it’s been a while since I’ve read a book with a main squad of friends. I forgot how much I enjoyed that sort of plotline. It’s not a spoiler to say that as the dares get worse and more personal, there are fallouts among the group, and of course that was the end of the element I enjoyed most, but for the first half or so of the book I really loved feeling like I was one of the friends.
That’s really the main positive that I have. The only other thing I can say I enjoyed about this book was the premise. I think if someone else were to write this book with darker, more thrilling undertones, this book would be a much greater success.
I didn’t like most things about this book. I also don’t want to spend a lot of time going into detail about it, so I’m just going to hit some of the highlights / most problematic points for me, aside from the fact that this book was incorrectly categorized as a thriller.
This is a great example of a novel where the changes in timeline don’t do it for me. If all the action in the plot is happening exclusively in one of the timelines, the other subplot is going to drag, and that’s exactly what happens. Of course the chapters that take place while the game is happening at Oxford are going to be much more exciting than the present day timeline where Jolyon is moping around his apartment. I was significantly less invested in those chapters and that really dampened my enjoyment of the book overall.
The second thing that bothered me most was an allusion to a large reveal and twist that never really happened. I’m not going to tell you what the ‘reveals’ actually were, but if you don’t want to know specifics about how many reveals there are or why I didn’t like the, skip to the rating and final thoughts. There are two ‘reveals’ and they’re both executed poorly for different reasons. The first reveal isn’t a reveal at all if you’re aware of what you’re reading in the slightest, but is treated as such and thusly slows the plot of the book a lot. It seems like Yates wants you to take in the magnitude of what he’s just told you when he reveals what he does, but I already knew it had happened – not because I guessed the reveal, but because it had already been mentioned and alluded to a number of times throughout the novel. The second reveal, while admittedly more interesting than the first, occurs mere pages from the end of the novel and is entirely inconsequential to what we’ve read so far. It’s neat to be able to reflect and see the plot with a ~slightly~ different mindset, but I was left thinking something along the lines of, “who cares?”. It didn’t really matter. It really didn’t. And when you have two reveals that you treat with such reverence that don’t have much payoff to the reader, it results in a very disappointing and anti-climactic story (especially when you have a quote that mentions some great reveal on the back of your book!).
Rating & Final Thoughts
The more I think about it after having finished Black Chalk, I think I’ve decided on a rating of 1.5 out of 5 stars. I know a lot of the horror novels don’t do well on Goodreads rating-wise end up being some of my favorites (see I’m Thinking of Ending Things), but this one really fell flat. If you want to read this book, absolutely do not go in expecting a mystery, much less a thriller. This could be an interesting read for those who like college-based stories, or darker/heavier contemporaries; it just wasn’t for me.
Buy Black Chalk by Christopher J. Yates here.*
*as a reminder, I am an Amazon affiliate and make a small commission off of purchases made using my link.