Slashtag by Jon Cohn Review

When several social media and reality TV content creators enter an abandoned old hotel from the days of yesteryear, things get scary. Such is the premise of Slashtag; a brand new book from the mind of author Jon Cohn. A book that is aimed at fans of horror, both young adult and older, due to its language, writing style and content.

This novel caught my attention due to its title, some good buzz on a review site and its premise. I’m always on the hunt for good, new horror, hate missing out on things, and am willing to give books that sound interesting a chance. Although it took a bit of time for me to really get into it, this one was a pretty fun ride.

The story begins as a young woman tries to figure out how to save her online brand, which is related to healthy eating, good lifestyles and happiness. As an ambassador for such things, she tries to be on the cusp of what’s new and popular, and decided to lend her name to some sort of nutritional drink. That turned out to be a mistake, though, because something went wrong with one shipment or more, and lots of people ended up getting very sick as a result. Thus, Tawny is now called Tawny Toilet, as a comedic and infamous nickname.

After attempting to save her brand through the means of an apology, Tawny gets an invitation to enter a competition called Slashtag. Described as being “the most immersive horror competition,” and expecting millions of viewers, it presents itself as a chance to perhaps save her name. However, despite the potential, Tawny originally says no, until she’s offered a deal she can’t pass up. You see, she has a sister named April who was hurt by a madman years ago, and left with non-functioning kidneys, bound to a wheelchair and on dialysis for life. The same event resulted in a dog attack on Tawny, which left her with numerous scars. The production team at Krentler Media has offered two healthy kidneys on top of their already generous monetary offer.

Upon accepting the too good to be true sounding deal, our protagonist is driven out to an old mining ghost town somewhere in California, which is where the infamous Propitius Hotel stands. The site of many grisly murders by way of maniacal medical experiments, it is said to be haunted by the ghost of its creator and resident madman. The thing is that he’s been dead for maybe a hundred years. Tawny’s not alone either. She’s joined by a popular reality TV star, her prank loving fake social media boyfriend, D-wreck, a former football player who was let go from the NFL due to being homosexual, an anime loving social media star, a celebrity chef who wears a George Costanza mask and a well known actor’s son, who played this infamous serial killer in a box office bomb.

The idea is that all of these ‘stars’ and influencers, for lack of a better term, will spend a weekend in the haunted hotel. While there, they’ll have to find their way out by way of a massive escape room kind of situation. They’ll need to find 3 pieces of a key, destroy statues and make their way into the killer — Arthur’s — own residence, all while dealing with a confusing layout, traps, darkened rooms and puzzles. They’ll also have the killer on their backs, though it’s not clear how that will occur.

This is the type of book where things don’t go as planned, but I won’t say much more. Just know that it’s dark, it’s gruesome and it’s like the literary version of an escape room in a lot of ways. It can be hard to mentally keep track of all of the rooms, but there are thankfully two provided maps at the end of the book. They can be quite helpful.

Most chapters focus on our main character, Tawny, and her point of view as she deals with the past and present in this nightmarish scenario. However, every so often we get chapters driven by emails between members of the production crew at Krentler Media, as well as some featuring the point-of-view of Tawny’s sister, April, as she watches the live-stream of the event and becomes entangled within the narrative. This can be a little bit jarring and very slightly confusing, because both Tawny and April’s sides are told in first-person.

For the most part, this is a pretty well written affair, and one that’s chock full of twists, violence and unimaginable things. The characters, themselves, are relatively deep but most aren’t all that memorable, nor is the main character. That’s okay, though, because she serves the purpose and isn’t exactly meant to be the most unique main character ever written. Tawny’s point-of-view is interesting throughout, as is her back story, which comes into play. I also liked the way things were wrapped up.

Perhaps Slashtag was over-hyped some for me, but I enjoyed it nonetheless and find it easy to recommend for those who are in the market for such a story. Due to its content and focus, this book obviously won’t be for everyone, but those who like escape rooms, horror and social media contests should definitely check this one out if it piques their interest. This is a good book that I might otherwise have missed out on had I not noticed and requested it. I’m glad that I did.

This review is based on a copy of the book we received. Thank you to NetGalley and Deadbolt Books for approving us. Receiving a free copy did not influence our review.

Slashtag by Jon Cohn Review
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