... insightful and gripping ... On the surface, Reprieve is a story about an attack at a haunted house, but Mattson is also investigating questions of identity and power, namely who in this story controls fears and who is subject to them. Thankfully, the answer isn’t as simple as having the Black and Thai characters suffer as victims of the powerful while the white characters serve as the abusers. Instead, nearly everyone here takes turns in these roles, being harmed by the greed and prejudices of others and then displaying their own not long afterward. And yet, the novel doesn’t pretend each character is equally at fault; there are, after all, degrees of power and powerlessness. The haunted house at the center of the narrative is an excellent touch because the ideas of danger and harm become material, frightening and imminent. At times, the reader is trapped in Quigley House with the contestants, in scenes that are genuinely unnerving ... we get a great deal of background on Kendra, Jaidee and Leonard in particular. Much of it is interesting and meaningful, but I would say, as one might find with Barker and King, there is such a thing as too much back story ... Another way to say this is that I kept wanting to return to the terrors of Quigley House. I wanted to see who survived and who didn’t. Of course, I cared about who did or didn’t make it out only because Mattson did such a fine job of making these people feel real and their pasts so satisfyingly complex. Still, their histories could have been trimmed down here and there, and nothing would have been lost ... In his sly way, Mattson turns his novel into a portrait of current events. And they have, indeed, been terrifying.
... a novel about otherness, loneliness, racism, and identity wrapped in a gory tale about a full-contact escape room attraction. Mattson walks the line between pulpy horror and smart literary fiction here, and the result is a multilayered book that has enough going on to please fans of both genres ... or turn them off ... a bizarre sort of horror novel where the main elements of the genre — fear, gore, violence, etc — are relegated to occasional chapters that recount the group's journey through the rooms, and the characters' backstories are really what occupy center stage and take up most of the space. In fact, the book feels more like a collection of literary fiction and horror novellas linked together by a dark event than a cohesive full-length book about a creepy place and a brutal murder ... There are two standout elements in Reprieve: The first is character development. Everyone in this book is deep, nuanced, and multilayered; several of them are POC, queer, or both, and Mattson lays out their troubles on the page ... Then there are the criticisms Mattson hurls at America ... The novelette-sized chapters about each character are so lengthy and detailed that it's easy to get lost and forget about not only the horror, but also the other characters. Only Mattson's storytelling skills keep the whole thing from being self-indulgent ... Taken all together, it's a bit much at times, though luckily, Mattson always maintains control. Still, readers should enter at their own risk. The experience might be harrowing — but just like Quigley House, the reward at the end is worth it.
A brilliant hybrid, a thought-provoking look at marginalization and systemic oppression expertly nestled inside a high-anxiety tale about the horror industry itself ... Severely unsettling at every turn, the book alternates the unrelenting tension of 'the real world' with the in-your-face terror of the haunt, meaning there is no reprieve from the fear. This is a rare treat of a novel that will be devoured by fans of pulp horror titles.
You could say it’s a story adjacent to The Haunting of Hill House, but even more disturbing ... There are many ways to look at a book with so many flavors of madness. It could be a study of the effects of thwarted desire on people who are basically incapable of empathy ... As the book’s horrifying events unfold, Reprieve can be read as a commentary on, or even an allegory of, American racism. Are we fighting to succeed in a fun house whose rewards aren’t worth the pain? As a study of systems of power at their most perverse, Reprieve is a horror story, certainly, but it’s not as scary as it is deeply disturbing.
[A] smart and harrowing story ... The tense, well-paced story...gradually reveals thematic connections as everyone grapples with understanding why Bryan was killed. It adds up to a canny use of horror as metaphor for themes of guilt, race, and sexuality.
This is a worthy attempt at a complex psychological thriller, but it fails to stick its landing. The characters’ motivations are often opaque, and their behavior sometimes defies logic, particularly when life-altering decisions are at stake. The plot developments building to the climax will occasion much head-scratching ... Despite some haunting scenes, a frustrating read.