This week we travel back to my childhood, to that strange time in a young woman’s life where she becomes obsessed with the occult.

Before Harry Potter and Twilight, the young adult supernatural/romance genre was dominated by one author: L.J. Smith.

Smith is the author of the “The Vampire Diaries,” which has been poorly adapted into a CW television series.

She is also the author of the much better Night World series. Night World is about humans, vampires, werewolves and witches coexisting, falling in love and fulfilling prophesies. My friends and I were obsessed. In eighth grade we had a writing prompt about what we would do with a million dollars. I said I would buy every L.J. Smith book in publication — and then buy my mom a new house.

Now, sadly, Lisa Jane Smith never finished her magnum opus of the Night World series. Book ten, which Smith promised would tie up all our lose ends and answer all questions, was, apparently, last heard about in 2012.

While the Night World series never got any kind of satisfying ending — and I am still salty about it, Lisa Jane — Smith did manage to finish several other series, including my guilty pleasure — The Forbidden Game.

The Forbidden Game trilogy consists of three books — “The Hunter,” “The Chase,” and “The Kill.” The series came out in the mid- to late-90s and it shows. There is a distinct lack of cell phones and internet, and only one computer which makes an appearance briefly.

Jenny Thornton is a junior in high school. One day she and her friends play a board game that sucks them inside, like Jumanji. The board game takes them to the Shadow Realm where they meet Julian. Julian is a Shadow Man, described in each book as “like the sandman but he gives you nightmares.”

The Shadow Men are an ancient race of creatures who are the basis of most fairy tales and mythology. They are malevolent and tricky and love to play games and fulfill wishes with unintended consequences.

Turns out Julian is in love with Jenny! He has been in love with her since she was five (gross) and has been secretly watching her since then (also gross). When she realizes the implications of this, Julian assures her he does not care if she is wearing makeup or sweat pants or has messy hair.

That is probably not the part about you constantly watching her for eleven years that bothers her, Julian!

Like a typical creep, Julian cannot just ask Jenny out. Instead he has to trick her and her friends into this game where she is literally the prize.

Jenny turns him down several times through the trilogy and he continues to pursue her anyway, whining about how they belong together and she needs to stop dating jocks because they don’t deserve her. Ladies, I think we all know a guy like this.

Each book is Julian forcing or tricking the group into playing a different kind of game, with Jenny set up as the main player and the grand prize.

Surprisingly enough, most of the books held up upon review. I enjoyed revisiting this trilogy, and listened to it three times all the way through on Audible.

First, the good.

The best thing about this series is that the characters grow and change from the start to the end.

Jenny at the start is very dependent on her boyfriend. She dresses the way he likes and wears her hair the way he prefers. She plans her whole future around him. By the end of the series she has rescued him three times and has started to think about what she wants out of the future.

Tom, Jenny’s boyfriend, starts the first book taking Jenny for granted. He won’t even say he loves her, and they have been dating since they were kids. He grows to appreciate Jenny and gains some humility too.

The other main characters of Audrey, Dee, Michael and Zack also change by the end of the third book. They overcome petty jealousies, make real connections with each other, and generally mature and grow as humans based on their experiences fighting Julian.

Now the bad.

There were a lot of repeated phrases, especially when describing characters: Warm, spaniel eyes. A beaky nose. Spikey lashes. An arm, hard like a boy’s.

Nobody ever just brushes their hair, they would brush their “hair the color of honey.” L.J. Smith is very liberal in her use of simile and metaphor. It is not exactly bad writing, but it is not great either.

Early in the first book Jenny mentions she has only fainted once. Then she proceeds to faint or almost faint a dozen times in the trilogy.

Dee, the only Black person in the entire series, is constantly compared to wild big cats and described as looking “just like Nefertiti.” There is no dealing with Dee’s race or mention of her being Black at all except for a brief mention that her grandfather died in a “racial incident.” Yikes.

Dee is also way into martial arts and may be a lesbian. She spends a lot of time talking about how terrible men are, there is a strange scene with her in the girl’s locker room, and she is the only main character with no love interest.

My biggest pet peeve is in the first book. The board game the group plays, before it transports them to the shadow realm, sounds awesome. I want it to be a real game. I would play the heck out of this game, and someone should make it.

All in all, I enjoyed rereading this series, and I am sure I will listen again at some point. Rating: 8/10 copies of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

Christine Simmonds is the Assistant Editor of The Courier-Gazette. She is a former English teacher who loves books. Email book ideas to csimmonds@villagesoup.com.

The Forbidden Game by L.J. Smith.

 

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