Publisher: Pocket Books (1994)
Long before LJ Smith became famous as the author of a sexy book-turned-tv-show named, The Vampire Diaries, she was churning out awesome paranormal YA books in the 90s. Name any odd paranormal incident and she wrote about it. Witches in a coven resurrecting pirates from a crystal skull and finding their soulmates: check! Mutated crystal using criminal psychics fighting white robed druids in California: check! Rune wielding board games that suck you in and force you to play them where the ultimate loss grants you an eternity of sexy time with a gorgeous cyberpunk: check check CHECK! My absolute all time favorite LJ Smith book is without a doubt, the Forbidden Game, Volume I: the Hunter. The eponymous Hunter is a sinfully sexy white haired, blue eyed ice monster who wants the girl so badly that he forces her to play a game to win back the freedom of her best friends and boyfriend. It is badass and romantic and totally something all girls want to have happen to them. Don’t lie to me!!! Who wouldn’t want an otherworldly being is so infatuated with her that he has to have her in whatever deliciously devious way he can? Sign me up!
Jenny Thornton has a perfectly charmed life. She does whatever she wants and never has to worry about the consequences. Luckily, Jenny is of that genre of good girl where doing whatever she wants means saving stray dogs and walking down dark alleys alone during the
day. On her boyfriend’s birthday, she decides to buy him a game to play at the party she and her friends are throwing him. She takes a shortcut through a bad section of town on her way to the toy store and ends up being stalked by two thugs who only want to do her harm. Jenny walks into the first open store she finds and is amazed that it’s a games store. The sales clerk has got to be the hottest guy on the planet–white hair, blue eyes, tattooed biceps, and a voice she likens to elemental wind. He persuades Jenny to buy a game from him that he promises will keep everyone entertained (not that he has to try very hard. His sexy self is enough to sell any game). That night at the party, she and her friends play the game which consists of writing down their deepest fears and hiding them on the playing board which is the replica of a Victorian house. The game tells them to recite some runes aloud to make it binding and in good fun, they do. Then whoosh! The lights go out and Jenny finds herself actually inside a Victorian house, getting ready to play the game in reality. Turns out the cyberpunk salesman is actually an elemental ice monster from Nordic myth named Julian and he’s been in love with Jenny for a very long time. By invoking the rune in real life, she bound herself to play his game on his terms and in his realm. Jenny must race against the clock in order to help her friends face their fears throughout the game and if she doesn’t, then they are all trapped forever with Julian and Jenny will become his queen forever.
Before it was cool to write paranormal YA fiction, LJ Smith was doing it and doing it so well no one else can hold a candle. Her characters are typical, even predictable, yet her scenarios are anything but. Jenny is the epitome of the blonde high school girl–she’s pretty, vivacious, and sweet; she has a nice, football playing boyfriend and big dreams of going off to college with him. Then she meets Julian, agrees to play his game, and her world is turned upside down. My hat is off to Jenny for withstanding Julian’s elemental ice king allure. He’s the gorgeous opposite of everything Jenny’s life represents: he is not safe, he is not boring, he knows exactly what he wants and he lets nothing stand in his way even if it means killing Jenny’s friends or her boyfriend. Of course Julian isn’t as cold and calculating as he makes himself out to be, but Jenny’s love of right and good works means that she will not let herself be swayed by him. I really do applaud LJ Smith for creating a wholesome character who refuses to cater to the powers of darkness. Too often lately, books are written about girls giving in to the dark side. Granted she’s a little vanilla but that’s something that Jenny never does or would do and it’s her steadfast character and core strength which enable her to withstand Julian. And that boy uses all his big guns even going so far as pretending to be one of her friends in order to kiss her. This book is a fun read that will have you enthralled from the moment you enter Julian’s games store and you’ll find yourself rooting not only for Jenny but also for Julian as bad as he is.
Based on the following criteria:
How much did I like the heroine: 10. One of the few YA fiction heroines that deserves a 10. She sticks to her principles throughout the story, stays true to her boyfriend even against the onslaught of hotness and drool that is Julian, and does what she must to save her friends. Don’t get me wrong: you will find Jenny a touch boring at the beginning of this story but then her core of steel comes out and you can’t help but love her.
How much did I like the love interest: 10. White haired, blue eyed, tattooed biceps, leather vest wearing elemental ice lord from Nordic Myth??? How can you say no to that? In addition, he has a voice like water flowing over stones and has been dreaming about Jenny since she was 4. He created an entire world for her to live in (aka the Game) and even tells her he could live with her AND her boyfriend as long as she would stay with him. This guy is a baddie yes, but also a hot romantic who does whatever he must to win the girl.
How believable is the plot: 10. Okay, so it is a paranormal book, and while I haven’t had anything paranormal happen to me, I’m not discrediting it. Beyond the paranormal elements, you can see the story happening to you (or maybe it’s just wishful thinking?) and I bet by the middle of the book, you’ll wish that you could stumble upon a hidden games store with a sexy rune beast inside.
How much did I like the writing style/editing/etc: 10. LJ Smith has a fluidity about her writing which is hard to find elsewhere. Her phrasing is simple but it packs a punch and flows amazingly well. Plus there were no editing mistakes (quite possibly the result of this being a paperback and not e-format).
How much did I want to keep reading: 10! And luckily for me, there are two more books out there and they both involve games and Jenny and Julian but not so lucky is that we have to endure more of Jenny’s annoying boyfriend, Tom!
Final Score: 10 / 10. Totally well deserved!