Small Game


The show is called Civilization. The contestants are tasked with not just surviving but also with creating a new Civilization. The six contestants must forgo all comforts and find a way to live on their own with nothing but the clothes on their back and what the forest can provide. If they can hack it for 6 weeks, they can win $100,000. Mara teaches survival classes for a living and is confident she can survive the 6 weeks but when the crew stops showing up and the cameras go off, the remaining contestants are left far longer than the 6 weeks they expected.

This is a well written debut but for me this wasn’t a thriller. This goes back to my compliant about labeling books thrillers just because they have one dramatic event. To me thrillers are page turning suspense reads, and while I guess this one had some suspense, it read more as literary or contemporary fiction to me. The pacing here is much slower, from a purely stylist perspective reminded me more of What Comes After and These Silent Woods. I really enjoyed both of those books and they were in my top 2021 reads. Do these books all have a mystery tied to them? Yes, but they’re so much more than the that and labeling them as thrillers really does them a disservice since they don’t fit the typical mold of a thriller. Now that I have that rant out of the way…

I really thought I was going to love this book and it started off really strong for me. I’m all for a survival book especially when the descriptions and writing is so incredibly vivid. I was hoping for multiple POVs, especially since it’s all about a reality TV show. I was surprised by the choice to just show Mara’s POV and to be honest she’s the least interesting of all the characters. I feel like we got a ton of information about the actual contestants throughout the books but nothing that helped puzzle together who each of them were. So instead, we really just get Mara’s thoughts and musing throughout the whole story. That could have been fine, but Mara’s character seems to be a bit ‘bleh’, for lack of a better term. Her behaviors and viewpoints could all certainly be crafted from her upbringing, but she lacked emotion and tended to be naïve.

Pacing wise this one is a bit slower and is more an atmospheric read than a plot based one. Which is going to work for lots of readers, but it doesn’t work great for me, since I’m such a plot-based reader. I was constantly waiting for something to happen, that never materialized. That might have been from my assumption this would be more a traditional thriller, than because of the actual story itself. The ending also felt abrupt. Without getting too far into it, I got zero answers to what happened. I know this was a direct choice (and some people love a good open ending) but I just have too many questions left.

For a certain type of reader, this is going to be a great story to get your hands on. For those of us that need more concrete endings, and are plot based readers, this won’t be a perfect fit. I will say again though, that the writing was wonderful especially for a debut. I’d definitely give Braverman another shot but this one just didn’t fully deliver for me.


Small Game comes out November 1, 2022! Huge thank you to Ecco Press for my advanced copy in exchange for my honest opinion.  If you liked this review please let me know either by commenting below or by visiting my Instagram @speakingof.books.


2 Comments Add yours

  1. CLS says:

    I never would’ve thought it was a thriller based on the description. Also, it mimics the already existing reality show Survival which is drama not “horror”. Thanks for the review.

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