These Deadly Games / Diana Urban / Book Review


Crystal is used to playing games. She's a championship Mortal Dusk player, after all. She and her best friends have been preparing for the upcoming regional championship--with a multi-million dollar prize, too. She's no stranger to competition.

But when she gets an anonymous text with a video of her little sister bound and gagged, she finds herself thrown into a game unlike any she's known before.

She's got twenty-four hours to win. If she loses a challenge, Caelyn dies. If she breaks the rules, Caelyn dies. If she gets anyone else involved, Caelyn dies. The tasks seem simple enough at first: steal a test key, bake some brownies, make a prank call. But as the tasks escalate, Crystal realizes they're meant to hurt her--and her friends--one by one. And with one wrong move, it's game over for everyone. Forever.



I'll admit it. This book surprised me. I wasn't a particular fan of Diana Urban's first book, and so I'm very happy to say that this book far surpasses her first, at least as far as I'm concerned. It's not nearly so melodramatic. The pacing, while not perfect, is much better, and the characters have much more at stake.


Gamer Girls Gamer media is dominated by dudes. That's just the way it is, but in reality, there are just as many gamer girls as there are guys. So when gamer girls show up anywhere--anywhere that's not a hyper-sexualized commercial, that is--it's a win. And this book has great representation for those gamer girls. It has not one or two but three girls all playing together--and playing with guys on their team as well.

Killer Twist I really, truly thought the killer was going to be obvious in this one. I had, in fact, given up on this book in that regard pretty early on. It was just too painfully obvious. But then... It didn't go at all where I thought, which was good in a number of ways--not least because it surprised me. In Diana Urban's first novel, there was a twist culprit as well, of course, so perhaps I should have expected it. But that twist, while unexpected, also felt more melodramatic than anything else. And this twist was much more tempered, and equally unexpected.

Horrifying Consequences Though a lot of contemporary YA thrillers play hard and fast with life-or-death stakes, this one delves right into the horrifically-real realm of possibility. The deaths and near-deaths of this book are truly terrible not due to their grisly nature but due to the fact that they could, so easily, happen just like that to any of us--even if we're not caught in the middle of a psychopath's mind games. They are deaths meant to seem accidental, and they are particularly malicious because of this.


There are two types of flashback in this book, and this critique is only about one. The flashbacks that reveal the five-years-ago secret that propels the story are fine enough. That's not what this critique is about. This criticism refers to the other, more common flashbacks, the ones utilized throughout the book to reveal past character interactions and build their relationships. These brief dips into character backstory (that don't involve the "incident") are perhaps necessary to lay out the characters themselves, but they don't feel natural at all. They don't come up naturally, the entire interactions are told to us more than experienced by us, and they break the tension of the narrative with random dips into not-tense past times. In a thriller, where tension is key, that's really unfortunate. Flashback Breaks

Police interaction is a not-insignificant part of this book, and unfortunately, it just felt off to me. YA thrillers tend not to be nearly as serious as adult thrillers, for obvious audience reasons, and that's okay. But the police, if they're ever involved, should still feel like the police. Here, they felt oddly unprofessional, which was not helped by the main officer's tick of answering "Mmkay" to everything people told him. It threw me out of the narrative, for sure. Police Procedure

I critiqued the general flashbacks earlier, and now I'm going to critique the main flashbacks, those revolving around the "incident" that may or may not have started this all. The incident in question took place five years before the story, and it is slowly revealed to readers throughout the book. And that's fine. It just takes a bit too long to get to the real meat of what happened. There's suspense, and then there's needlessly dragging things out. And this build-up ultimately falls into the second category. It does start strong. I'll admit that, but it started dragging after awhile. It took a few too many flashbacks to get out too little information. Backstory Reveal



Those who appreciated the life-and-death gaming atmosphere of Jeanne Ryan's Nerve will like this nerve-wracking more-than-a-game. Those unsettled by the real-life consequences of Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé's Ace of Spades will enjoy these too-close-to-home stakes.


Publisher: Wednesday Books
Date: February 1, 2022
Series: N/A
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Note: I was provided with an ARC by the publisher through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions here are my own.


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