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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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