Sunday, July 6, 2014

Book Review: The Forbidden Game

Title: The Forbidden Game: Collector's Edition (Includes Volume 1: The Hunter, Volume 2: The Chase, and Volume 3: The Kill)
Author: L. J. Smith
Genre: YA, Paranormal Romance, Fantasy


"Danger. Seduction. Fear."

So promises the mysterious white-haired boy in the game shop as he hands Jenny an unmarked box. Jenny just wanted something to amuse her friends at her boyfriend's birthday party. But this Game will open the door to a world where magic is real, where dark secret are exposed and illusions have the power to kill.

For Julian, the boy in the game shop, is no mere mortal. An ancient being with the power to control shadows, he's watched Jenny since she was a child and he'll use this Game to possess her, if he can. If Jenny wants her freedom, she'll have to win. But she'd better learn fast, because they're playing by his rules and only by outwitting the master of shadows can she and her friends hope to survive.


I found The Forbidden Game while browsing the children's section of a used bookstore, and the word "Game" immediately caught my eye. To me, the word promises fun, danger, and strategy. Toss in a dollop of magic, I'm there. Unfortunately, the actual game part of The Forbidden Game was a little disappointing. Each of the three volumes center around a different children's game: Shoots and Ladders, Hide-and-Seek, and Treasure Hunt. (The last one is my favorite as it makes good use of the creepy carnival setting.) Obviously, the magic elevates it the games to dangerous levels. So what's the problem?

Julian. He has all the power to make the game and no incentive to follow the rules. In Volume 2, for example, the game is Hide-and-Seek, but the players are unable to hide from him. Thus, they go about there normal lives until Julian decides to strike by sending a black pit to swallow them up. The only way to free the players is to find Julian's home base, but since he operates in the shadow world, there's no way to find it.  Jenny is reduced to begging for hints and complaining when they aren't fair. To me, a game needs structure and a neutral playing board, or where's the fun in it?

So if I didn't like the games, why did I keep reading?

Julian. Here's a guy who sets everything to his advantage and still feels obliged to play fair. He's wicked, playful, romantic, mopey, and cruel--and fundamentally appealing to my inner teenage girl. Reading the book, I kept wondering, is he really evil? Or does he genuinely think tormenting a girl's friends is the way to her heart? To Jenny's credit, she  does not condone his actions and fights him every step of the way. Yet for some sick reason, I still wanted them together. I knew, morally and intellectually, such a relationship was wrong, but, oh hell, this is a fantasy. If there's going to be lurking snake creatures and rainbow bridges to other dimensions, then I'm allowed to root for the shadow man and the sunshine girl to get together.

The book was written in 1994, but I think, with a slight cover change, it could appeal to readers of Twilight. After all, The Forbidden Game has an impossibly beautiful yet dangerous male lead, a love triangle, and long descriptions of every kiss. And for those who dislike Twilight, I will say that Jenny's spunkier than Bella, there's more action, and the supporting cast comes in all shades and personalities. There's more than enough to make The Forbidden Game an entertaining, if frivolous read.

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