Archive for the ‘Horror’ Category

Forbidden Game Trilogy

L J Smith is more famous for her series The Vampire Diaries which has been adapted for television. But, in the early nineties, she put pen to paper for the Point Horror imprint from Scholastic and created three of my all time favourite books.

This last week, with Christmas drawing in and the dark nights being especially cold and wet I scanned my (new) bookshelves for something to read. I had finally brought over the remainder of my books from my parent’s home, now that my husband had hung the custom shelves, so as I scanned the titles I found myself looking at a fair few books that I have had for a long while.

I made the transition from Point Horror to more grown-up horror stories such as those by James Herbet and Stephen King at around the age of twelve. Whilst the majority of my Point Horror collection got relegated to the dusty confines of my parent’s loft (a.k.a attic to Americans) these three books have always remained on my book shelf. Next to text books about Shakespeare and various Oxford World Classic books they began to look a little out of place but I have always kept them out.

We all have our guilty pleasures. A cheesy song we can’t help but dance or sing to. An outrageous film you know you should scorn for its obvious poor quality but once it’s on your butt won’t move till the credits roll. A book you know anyone in their adult years would scoff to read but whose characters have stayed with you for so long they are like family.

The Forbidden Game Trilogy includes the books The Hunter, The Chase and The Kill. I have always found the titles a little jarring. The first should be called “The Hunt” if it is to fit in with the pattern of the other two titles. However, choices have been made for a reason and I am sure the Scholastic editor knows more about how to title a book than I do.

The Hunter begins with the main protagonist, Jenny Thornton, in the wrong part of town trying to find some entertainment for her boyfriend’s birthday party. She is madly in love with her boyfriend and always has been since second grade. Being English I have no idea how old that would have made her, but I assume it has been a while. Then she meets Julian with his luminous blue eyes. These eyes get mentioned a lot. She buys a board game from him and takes it to the party.

This game is no ordinary game. As you could probably have guessed from the title. Soon after they begin playing, Jenny and her friends realise they are playing for their lives.

It turns out that Julian is in love with Jenny, and has been since she was five years old. Don’t scrutinise the moral implications of that too closely. It’s not that sort of book. Jenny is sixteen before he makes his move so technically, its all legal and above board. Apart from the kidnapping and the attempted murder of her friends of course.

In the Victorian paper house that becomes real around them, the players face their worst nightmares. The area around them reacts to their inner fears, changing as they move up through the floors towards their goal to reflect that terrifies them most.

Whilst her friends struggle to survive, Jenny struggles to remain faithful to her childhood sweetheart. Julian is dangerous and sexy compared to the innocent, safe love she already has. But always she keeps fighting for survival and ultimately freedom.

The second two books extend this chase. Each book is a different game. All of the characters go on their own internal journeys as they face up to their fears (or not) and by the end they have all gained experience whilst losing some of their innocence. As with most Young Adult books this is a coming of age, but with a supernatural twist.

Smith combines the romance genre (which I found pretty boring in my youth) with the danger and excitement of the the horror genre giving a page turning read with enough emotional impact I still can’t part with the characters fifteen years later. And no matter how many times I read it, the ending is still the same…

The Forbidden Game trilogy, I think, has its qualities as a Gothic text. There are firstly the Gothic settings that appear throughout. The dangerous part of town, the game shop with its mystical foreign games, the Victorian house. And that is all in the first book. There is also the Gothic Hero, Julian, who seems to be more ‘real’ than everything else around him. There is also the Norse mythology that underpins all of the magic and explains the existence of the Shadow World. Though this book was written for a mass-market imprint aimed at Young Adult readers, Smith has imbued her trilogy with enough of the Gothic genre that I believe with the support of a well argued essay this series could be a good example of a Gothic text.

Is it possible that there are other books, dismissed as YA fiction with no literary value, that have been overlooked? What are your favourite books from childhood?

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Scars on the Face of God: The Devil’s Bible is a pacey urban fantasy/horror novel set in a village north-east of Philadelphia. Bauer expertly builds suspense with unsettling supernatural occurrences and drip feeds enough clues to keep the reader engrossed in the scandalous past and present of Three Bridges, formerly known as Schuetten.

The residents live in the shadow of the Volkheimer legacy and the Catholic church. A host of unwanted secrets bubble under the surface of the narrative. More specifically, in the sewer system. The construction of a new restaurant disturbs the long buried secrets of Three Bridges. Debris floating amongst the abject waste of the sewers sets the tone of a dark narrative.

C. G. Bauer writes from the point of view of Johnny Hozer, later known as “Wump” due to a very specific event in his early adulthood. The narrative is in first person and heavily colloquial. Being English this did present a few problems with certain brands and phrases having no meaning for me at all. However the voice of Hozer was so strong and fully formed that these quirks only served to add to the character of Hozer.

The narrative holds the attention of the reader with expert timing of the supernatural. Sparse and explainable events sow the seeds of doubt and flash backs fill in the gaps of knowledge that combine to expose the criminal neglect of the Volkheimer Tannery and unravel the horrific truth about the Monsignor.

Bauer ploughs straight into action in the prologue where Hozer witnesses the extremely short life-span of a newborn child. The contrast with Hozer’s bewildered twelve-year old voice to his hardened sixty-five year old voice sets the precedence for a narrative that swings from horror to investigation. Hozer’s perception is deeply embedded in the past and his desperation to seek justice drives the plot forward with well paced momentum.

In this novel Bauer raises questions about responsibility. The main dominant male positions in society put in jeopardy the safety and morality of all of the villagers. Each of the superior figures harbour clear ambitions to which they will spare no cost in order to achieve. Their disregard for the well-being of people is as harrowing as the physical horrors that occur. A misguided perception on the value of human life propagates a dangerous backdrop for this dark horror story.

At times the plot begs incredulity but the character and plot development swallows the more fantastical scenes with a well earned sympathy for the characters and a deep seated need to resolve all the mysteries of The Three Bridges.

Bauer is the author of several short stories, the latest of which is to be published in the anthology 100 Horrors in the very near future. A promising new voice in Horror, this book comes highly recommended for readers seeking a new author.

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First published in 2009 by Gollancz

You can’t go far wrong if you pick up a SF book published by Gollancz. Patient Zero is yet another satisfying print from the SF publisher, an imprint of Orion books. Whether its a classic or a new find, trust these guys to deliver you everything you need for a day snuggled up on the sofa with hot tea and chocolate biscuits. Although as SF is a male-dominated readership perhaps I’m in the minority of SF readers who does so in this fashion.

Patient Zero is a fast-paced novel heavily dominated with military action. Maberry’s style reminded me of Robert Ludlum’s Bourne series. The main character had a finesse for combat and stategy which flavoured the narrative throughout. A delicious injection of zombies kept me on the edge of my seat, not literally as I don’t actually sit upright whilst I read, and I could not stop turning the pages. That made for a few late nights whilst I was meant to be settling into a new home and redecorating etc.

The medical and scientific depth of the plot gave Maberry’s zombies a unique place in the modern world. Zombies as a terrorist weapon holds significant importance to the reader who will have experienced much of the Western paranoia about what manufacturing exists in other countries. Maberry’s unusual take on a stock horror figure gives his book an ambiguous genre placement. This is not simply horror or sci-fi. It is comparable to the best of high-action thrillers with enough reality to give readers who don’t read sci-fi an exciting read too.

Maberry has given the Zombie genre a kick and raised the bar for all future novels. Maybe its time for the vampire fad to take a step backwards and try out Zombies again?

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This book is more about relationships and what constitutes an acceptable relationship than it is about ghosts. Again like The Time Traveller’s Wife the genre takes a back seat to the elements of Women’s Fiction that are prevalent. That it is a ghost story is irrelevant. The ghosts are but a minor detail to set the book apart from Women’s Fiction rather than to take the book into the genre of Horror / Ghost Stories entirely.

Julia and Valentina inherit a London apartment from an aunt they never knew they had. Their mother Edie’s relationship with her twin sister Elspeth is estranged to say the least. The more time Julia and Valentina spend in London the more they want to know what happened between Edie and Elspeth. However the desire to know or find out is never fully realised. The story focuses on their unconventional relationships with each other and other characters in the novel.

The reader is left wondering are Julia and Valentina too close or is it acceptable because they are twins. How old is too old? What is an acceptable age gap or is it no longer relevant in modern society? Should one be attracted to someone because it reminds them of their dead partner? Should one be attracted to their stalker? The fact that all this is perceived and judged upon by a supernatural entity seems irrelevant until the last quarter of the novel when things get exciting.

That being said, Niffenegger writes with fascinating detail. Each character is well-shaped and inviting and the environment provides plenty of escapism. An easy read perfect for the summer’s holiday.

(Reading Challenge: Book 6 of 20)

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My ‘easy’ read that I treated myself to was Stephen King’s Carrie. It was the first horror film I had ever watched and had me gripped on the genre ever since. I struggle to recall the film now, only the shower scene and the pig’s blood and an image of John Travolta in a white suit/tux.

The book wasn’t at all how I imagined. It showed numerous viewpoints of the scene and it was difficult to tell who the main character was. King also gave it a scientific feel with the excerpts from journals and interviews on the subject in hindsight.

Overall the story did not seem as frightening as it did when I was eleven but it was nice to see what novel inspired the film that brought me into the genre of horror at such a young age.

256 pages in total made this a very short read! Next / currently I’m reading 1984 which has come highly recommended from my boyfriend. I feel compelled to like it, so far it has me a bit confused but intriguing nonetheless!

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