Review: Black Chalk by Christopher J. Yates

Posted April 25, 2014 by in Book Reviews / 5 Comments

I received this book for free from the publisher / TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: Black Chalk by Christopher J. YatesBlack Chalk by Christopher J. Yates
Published by Random House UK on April 1, 2014
Genres: Fiction, Suspense / Thriller
Format: Paperback
Pages: 346
Source: the publisher / TLC Book Tours

Goodreads | Amazon

How well do you know your best friends?

How far would you go to protect them?

How far would you go to break them?

It was only ever meant to be a game. A game of consequences, of silly forfeits, childish dares. A game to be played by six best friends in their first year at Oxford University.

But then the game changed: the stakes grew higher and the dares more personal, more humiliating, evolving into a vicious struggle with unpredictable and tragic results.

Now, fourteen years later, the remaining players must meet again for the final round.

(from the back cover)


Six young adults meet at Oxford University in their freshman year and become friends–one American and six Brits. Chad and Jolyon decide to start a game and invite the other four to play. The stakes are relatively large: each participant in the game must make a deposit of 1000 pounds at the beginning of the game (and being college freshmen, they don’t really have any money to spare). On top of that, the friends have found a group called Game Soc to sponsor their game–Game Soc will give 10,000 pounds to the winner (the last person standing, so to speak). If any of the friends walks away from the game in the middle of play, they lose their deposit and it gets added to the winnings. The game must stay within the group and be kept a secret from all others.

The game itself is a mash-up: a little card playing; a little dice rolling; some consequences ranging from simple and silly to harder and pretty serious. It’s all meant to be a fun contest for a group of close friends to keep themselves occupied outside of school. What the friends don’t realize is that this game is going to push their friendships to the absolute limit. For some of them, winning is going to become the only thing that matters.

Black Chalk reminds me a bit of The Secret History by Donna Tartt: small group of close friends, a kind of secret society thing going on, infighting, crushes and love among the group members…but Black Chalk is a bit simpler in idea and scope (which is definitely not a bad thing).

The narrator of the story is one of the two remaining players in the game. He’s been living like a hermit for a number of years, afraid to leave his apartment and with his mind a bit cracked. He’s typing a memoir about his time in the game as a way to try to alleviate some of the guilt he feels pertaining to the game. I love the way the author decided to write this–the only thing I can say without spoiling parts of the story is that the narrator is the epitome of unreliable. It is set up early on that the narrator may not even be in total control of what he’s typing. It makes the whole thing that much more intriguing.

I really liked the majority of the characters–they had unique personalities and each brought something different to the game. Each character kind of fits a particular stereotype, but not in an annoying way.

Black Chalk is a real page-turner (I know that’s cliché, but it’s true). I set myself a schedule to read a third of the book each day, but ended up blowing through the last two-thirds of the book all in one day. I really enjoyed the way it was written, and Yates nails friendships, their boundaries, and what a situation like this would be like in real life. It’s suspenseful, sometimes funny, sometimes serious…and I already recommended it to sj, who is very hard to recommend books to.

Recommended to fans of The Secret History, as well as to people who enjoy suspenseful stories and/or stories about friendships and what happens when too much strain is put on them.

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