Cover of The Hunter, with a blonde girl's face above a haunted mansion, with a blonde punk dude's face next to it

About the Book

Title: The Hunter (The Forbidden Game #1)
The Chase (The Forbidden Game #2)
The Kill (The Forbidden Game #3)
Published: 1994
Series: The Forbidden Game
Swoonworthy Scale: 8

BFF Charm: Eventually
Talky Talk: Paperback Writer
Bonus Factors: Bad Boy, Nightmare Greatest Hits, The 90s
Relationship Status: Skater Boy Crush Rekindled At the High School Reunion

True Facts: These books were released in 1994, the same year little Sarah P. passed Driver’s Ed and an ice storm struck Houston, forcing her to stay home in front of the fire and read The Hunter in one sitting. After being thoroughly sucked in, I cursed the same weather that I previously celebrated, because I HAD TO GET TO BOOKSTOP TO GET THE OTHER TWO BOOKS AND I’M SURE I CAN DRIVE ON ICE I MEAN I HAVE MY LEARNER’S PERMIT OK MOM?!!! This trilogy was one of the few times I read YA as an actual young adult, and even though it’s not what you would call a masterpiece of literature, I still unabashedly love it, and I’m TOTES STOKED to review it, sixteen years later.

The Deal:

With a disposition as sweet as her honey-colored hair, Jenny Thornton is one of those perfect girls you wanted to hate in high school but never could, cos she’s SO FREAKING NICE. And, like most perfect people, she’s also hella boring, having dated the same guy, Tom, since second grade (WHAT) and allowing other people with more personality to take center stage in her life. Jenny always plays it safe, so of COURSE the one time she gets remotely reckless, INSANE SHIZZ HAPPENS. In preparation for Tom’s birthday party, Jenny wanders into a mysterious store, where she meets a strange and beautiful boy who sells her a board game. Given the title of this trilogy, you can guess that it isn’t Hungry Hippos. Jenny, Tom and their friends (Audrey, Michael, Summer, Dee and Cousin Zach) begin the game and immediately find themselves trapped in a Victorian house in the middle of the Shadow World, an icy and desolate place made from the stuff of legends (and we’re talking, like, all legends). The boy from the game store turns out to be Julian–Elf King, Prince of Darkness, all around evil dude–and, like you didn’t see this coming, he’s IN LOVE WITH JENNY! OF COURSE HE IS! Determined to win her at any cost, Julian forces Jenny and Co. to undergo a series of challenges and face their greatest fears. And, just like the tagline says, “If he wins, she’s his forever more…”

BFF Charm: Eventually

BFF Charm with a sweatband on

Jenny, I gotta be honest with you, girl. During the first book, I WANTED TO FACE PUNCH YOU SO HARD. Like ALL OF THE TIME. You’re basically the prototype of Bella, minus the clumsy. Like, the feminist in me is embarrassed every time I re-read the first book, cos you’re sooo dependent on Tom. (There’s literally a page where you talk about your side missing his side, and how you always sit on his left, and I’M SORRY WAIT, does this book take place in the 1890s?!!) Plus, any girl who would choose her asshole preppy boyfriend over the GORGEOUS PRINCE OF DARKNESS obvs needs some kind of blow to the brain. BUT but but but, during the second and third books, you grow a backbone! You get smart! You get sassy! You, dare I say, become quite the little blonde badass! And even though I still disagree with some of your decisions, I’m proud of you for venturing off the Bella path and turning into someone I’d be proud to call a friend. Of course, I’d have to end up taking Julian for myself, but you’re so nice, I know you’d understand.

I also gotta give bonus charms to several of Jenny’s friends–Dee, the totes fierce Black warrior; Michael, the adorable rumpled teddy bear, and most especially Audrey, the no-nonsense glamor queen, who claims her worst nightmare is opening up a Bloomies catalog and finding it empty. LU GIRL.

Swoonworthy Scale: 8

So, when I read the first book during the ice storm, the electricity was out, meaning we had no heat. LIKE I CARED. This little paperback was basically like one of those pouches you can buy that gets all hot when it’s exposed to air, and you can’t put it directly against your skin cos IT WILL BURN YOU. In other words, The Forbidden Game is a furnace of FIERY FLAMES OF DESIRE. Y’all I’m a sucker for the bad boy meets good girl archetype, and L.J. Smith basically has a PhD in that shizz. I’ll detail Julian more later, but he’s so SEX-AY and evil, yet also has the requisite potential for redemption. His desperate love for Jenny and her slowly growing attraction to him is stretched out over the trilogy in a deliciously torturous fashion, and whenever they kiss, the fireworks are exactly what you would expect between the union of hell and heaven.

Talky Talk: Paperback Writer

Maybe it’s because I loved them as a teen, but there’s something so sinfully satisfying about cheap paperbacks. There’s absolutely no pretense about them; paperbacks know their purpose is to give you a quick fix, so they never let anything too literary get in the way of the action. L.J. Smith’s writing style is plain, never flowery, and she’s an expert at getting you addicted within the first 20 pages. She’s like yor suburban neighborhood drug dealer–reliable, not too intense, and always available to get you a little high.

Bonus Factor: Bad Boy

Christian Slater in a screenshot from Heathers

Julian is the ultimate bad boy, because, well, he’s the Prince of Darkness! Can you get more bad than that?! Check out this description of him from the first book:

He was just as beautiful as he had been in the store. But here, against the backdrop of this quaint and fussy room, he looked even more exotic. His hair shown in the dimness like white cat’s fur or mountain snow. He was wearing a black vest that showed the smooth, hard muscles of his bare arms, and pants that looked like snakeskin. His eyes were heavy-lidded, shielded by long lashes. He was smiling.

HIS HAIR IS LIKE WHITE CAT’S FUR. HE WEARS SNAKESKIN PANTS AND A VEST WITHOUT A SHIRT UNDERNEATH. THAT IS AWESOME. I did mention these books were written in the early 90s, right? Smith was obvs going for a cyberpunk vibe, so she hit the jackpot with me cos I LOVE HACKERS. Throw in the whole Hades and Persephone story and JULIAN YOU CAN BE MY UNDERWORLD BOYFRIEND ANYTIME.

P.S. Edward Cullen WISHES HE WERE YOU.

Bonus Factor: Nightmare Greatest Hits

The puzzle cabin from the Cabin in the Woods movie poster

The games that Julian constructs for Jenny and her friends are basically a collection of every scary thing, EVER. There’s UFOs, zombies, dark magic, the Black Forest (holla!), even THE HAUNTED MANSION FROM DISNEYLAND. If you were the kind of nerd who checked out big books on mythology in junior high and read them for fun (i.e. me), you will love all of the nightmarish gems Smith steals from Greek, Roman, Norse, and even urban legends.

Bonus Factor: The 90s

Screenshot from My So-Called Life, with Angela and Rayanne rocking 90s fashion

I swear VH1 isn’t paying me to say this: as far as I’m concerned, the 90s is the best decade EVS. And this book, while not terribly dated, does feature the brilliance of that era, mostly manifested in the fashion (TRETORNS!) and cultural references (the part where they talk about how HIGH-TECH virtual reality is = aaaaawesome).

Relationship Status: Skater Boy Crush Rekindled At the High School Reunion

From afar, this book didn’t seem like my type; we ran in different crowds, came from different worlds. This wasn’t the kind of book a good, smart girl read, and yet, from the moment we made eye contact, I couldn’t help myself. I was drawn to its sense of danger and sexy recklessness, and even though I knew I should’ve been hanging out with classier literature, I would find myself lusting after this book again and again. The years passed, and I fell in love with other novels, but when I spotted this book at our high school reunion, our chemistry returned in a rush of tingly excitement. Sure, it hadn’t aged as well as others, and its shtick has been copied a thousand times over, but our occasional reunion flings always bring me back to the heady, hormonal days of our adolescence.

FTC Full Disclosure: I bought these books with my own damn money in high school, and I received neither cocktails nor money in exchange for this review.

Sarah lives in Austin, and believes there is no such thing as a guilty pleasure, which is part of why she started FYA in 2009. Growing up, she thought she was a Mary Anne, but she's finally starting to accept the fact that she's actually a Kristy.