Tag Archives: Strange Fate

The Re-Reading Project: The Forbidden Game

Jenny glanced back over her shoulder. They were still behind her, on the other side of the street but definitely following. They matched their pace to hers; when she slowed to pretend to look in a store window, they slowed, too.

There were two of them, one dressed in a black T-shirt and leather vest, with a black bandanna on his head, the other in a long flannel shirt, black-and-blue plaid, unbuttoned. Also unwashed. They both looked like trouble.

The game store was a few block ahead. Jenny quickened her pace a little. This wasn’t the best neighborhood in town, and she’d come here specifically because she didn’t want any of her friends to see her. She hadn’t realized, though, that Eastman Avenue had gotten quite so rough. After the last riots, the police had cleared things up, but many of the vandalized stores still had boarded windows, which gave Jenny a creeping feeling between her shoulder blades. They were like bandaged eyes turned toward her.

I’m fairly sure that The Forbidden Game trilogy were the first books of L.J. Smith‘s that I read, probably around the time they were published in 1994. By the time I started tracking my reading in 1996, I was already an earnest L.J. Smith fan and had read most of her books. Between 1994 and 2000, I re-read all of L.J. Smith’s book compulsively and if I remember correctly, The Forbidden Game was my favorite series during this time.

Emilie's original battered copies of The Forbidden Game trilogy

Emilie’s original battered copies of The Forbidden Game trilogy

Most of L.J.’s books feature teenagers dealing with extraordinary circumstances or creatures with minor adult supervision. Sometimes, as in The Forbidden Game, they are relatively normal teenagers. Later, L.J. would write about the psychically gifted, a coven of modern-day witches, vampires, and more in her other series. But The Forbidden Game is like Labyrinth meets Jumanji meets Norse mythology. Maybe it’s because I just re-watched Labyrinth (on a huge screen outdoors in a field by the river with food trucks nearby, perfect), but I totally suspect now, as an adult, that L.J. might have modeled Julian from The Forbidden Game on Jareth from Labyrinth.

In 1998, I was 16 and I moved from my hometown in Georgia to Mandeville, Louisiana (a suburb north of New Orleans, across Lake Ponchartrain). This is my cut-off for the books I’m reading during The Re-Reading Project and it was also a pivotal year for L.J., who stopped publishing for more than a decade. Stranded in unbearably humid Louisiana as a surly teenager, I re-read all my L.J. books and sought out other L.J. fans online. The Internet was relatively new to the casual home user and I explored webrings (remember those?) and e-mail during that first summer away from everything I knew. I also wrote my first book and I was heavily influenced by L.J.’s books when I wrote it, especially The Secret Circle. By the time I went off to college in 2000, L.J.’s fans still didn’t know what had happened to her and were still waiting for her to publish the last book of a 10-book series which was supposed to wrap up before the new millennium. All of this feels like ancient history to me now, but that last book, Strange Fate, still hasn’t been published, which I’ve written about here before.

At the end of my earlier post about L.J. Smith and Strange Fate, I’d noted that she’d been fired from writing The Vampire Diaries and that new books were being written by a ghostwriter. There’s a really good Wall Street Journal article I just found while researching for this post that talks about what happened and how L.J. is using fanfiction to write and publish her version of new Vampire Diaries books. It’s a very bizarre (and cautionary) story. It also explains why she stopped writing for a decade.

So while I’ve never read the two stand-alone books that L.J. first wrote, though she was only publishing actively for less than ten years (particularly 1994-1998), she managed to create several series that had an enormous impact on me as a person and a writer. But, in college, I mostly put the books away. While I’ve always had them on my bookshelves (till now, they’re in storage), I haven’t re-read them. Starting around 2008, all of her books were republished in shiny new omnibuses and both The Secret Circle and The Vampire Diaries were made into t.v. shows. New books were published for both series (which I haven’t read). Out of nostalgia mostly, I bought the reissues of all the books and even some of the new books, but I still didn’t re-read them. I was afraid that the experience of reading them could never be the same as it was when I was a 14-16 year old and that somehow the books would be diminished.

But when I started thinking about doing The Re-Reading Project, I knew that I would have to re-read something by L.J. Smith. I thought for a long time before I decided on The Forbidden Game, since it was my first series of hers and my favorite. So I dug both the original copies and my big omnibus edition out of storage. They were in a box that a friend helping me pack one day had labeled:Emilie's Formative Years

When the time came to read this month’s selection, I was once more in D.C. I’d read an engrossing thriller on my Kindle during the flight and started a Gillian Flynn book once I arrived (wait for the Quarterly Reading Report!) and I found myself dreading The Forbidden Game a bit. It was too big to fully ignore, but silently reproached me every time I passed it while carrying my slim, engrossing Gillian Flynn novel. Finally, I picked it up and began reading.

Forbidden Game 2010

At first, all my worse fears came true. I was bored. I thought Jenny and her boyfriend Tom were about as interesting as cardboard. Julian, the bad guy, was a little too reminiscent of Jareth. All of Jenny’s friends, the background characters, were marginally more interesting, but they also felt a little too purposefully cast (Audrey, the globe-trotting rich girl, Michael the schlubby funny guy who somehow won her, Zach the sullen anti-social computer nerd/artist, Summer the ditzy but sweet flower child and Dee the athletic black girl). But, as the story progressed, I was turning pages faster and faster, remembering why I’d liked the book and the characters and finding new nuances and details that the younger me wouldn’t have noticed, particularly in each of the character’s fears as they encounter them. I don’t remember being particularly interested in the second book when I first read the series, but that was the one that came alive to me now, especially the difficulties that the friends face now that they’ve returned to the real world without one of their own. The third book is interesting for all the ways that Jenny has changed, especially in her relationship with Dee and with Julian, and also because of the “road trip” aspect of the kids having to finish the game in a different state. The details of how they get from California to Pennsylvania are hilarious. In a pre-9/11 world, they fly across the country with, among other things, a crowbar in a duffel bag. Since I had just flown for the first time in a long while and was baffled how I was going to wash my long hair for 10 days with less than 3 ounces of shampoo, that was something I especially noticed.

Except for that and a few other small things here and there (the clothes! and the phone situation in book 2), the books aren’t as dated as I thought they’d be. While reading them now, at 32 years old, could never be the same as my experience reading them as a teenager, I was pleased about how enjoyable re-reading them was, both as an exercise in nostalgia and for their own sake. I prefer the original covers, which give you an idea of what the game world and Julian look like, over the rather static picture of an updated Jenny alone, which is why I included them above. Plus, a book as heavy as the omnibus can really kill your wrists (but it did lay open very satisfyingly).

I’m not sure when I’ll re-read any more L.J. Smith books, but I’m no longer afraid to. Perhaps I’ll go back and finally read The Night of the Solstice and Heart of Valor, her first too books. If you look at her website and her Wikipedia page, L.J. Smith has plans for new installments of this series too, in addition to Strange Fate. She plans a fourth book for both the Dark Visions series, as well as The Forbidden Game (called Rematch!). I suppose I could always re-read each series when and if each of these new books is published. Should be interesting to see if it comes to pass and how old I am when it does.

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LJ Smith: Strange Fate

A little while ago, Borders sent me an e-mail and said I might like to pre-order Strange Fate, the tenth and final (?) book in the Night World series by L.J. Smith. I couldn’t help but laugh as I scrolled through the comments from readers that all generally said the same thing, “I love this series, but I’ve been waiting for it FOREVER.” The comments are generally the same over at B&N and Amazon, where there’s even a forum called “When is this REALLY coming out?”

I’m not laughing to be cruel, it’s just that I’d be willing to bet money I don’t have that most of these readers/commenters, a lot of them anyway, have not been waiting over a decade to read this book, as I have. Most of them don’t even know that Lisa Jane Smith’s books were originally published when I was a teenager, before they were born in some cases. Strange Fate‘s original publication date was shortly before the new millennium and accordingly, the plot of the earlier books reflects that.

When the Night World books were published, 1996-1998, I was 14-16 years old and L.J. Smith was my favorite writer. Her books meant the world to me and I was bewildered by the inscrutable, almost entirely unexplained delay in the publication of the last Night World book. I went to college and still periodically checked in on a giant fan site for updates. L.J. was sick, we heard, but was back to writing and the book would be published soon.

Years passed and I started to believe that the book would never be published. Then, just a few years ago, all of her books were re-issued in new editions that would appeal to rabid fans of Twilight. The Vampire Diaries series was adapted into a t.v. show, which I watched for a while. I had to stop, though, because the t.v. show didn’t reflect either the books or my experience of them as a teenager, or both. But then, I knew they wouldn’t. To be successful in this millennium, they couldn’t. The Secret Circle series is being adapted now and I’ll probably watch a few episodes out of curiosity and because I like Britt Robertson from Life Unexpected. I think she’ll be a great Cassie.

I’m a little annoyed that when (if?) Strange Fate is released, it won’t match my series (though, yes, I have bought all of the reissues). On the left is what MY Strange Fate should have looked like a decade + ago and on the right, what Strange Fate will (maybe) look like when (if?) it’s ever published. And that’s something Lisa Jane’s newest fans may be learning, which her most senior fans have long known – I’m not going to invest my money (and hope) till I hold the book in my hand.

Many of the teenagers reading Lisa Jane Smith (or L.J., as I’ll always think of her) don’t realize these are not new books, as evidenced by one of the comments I read that said Lisa Jane should stop writing multiple series of books at the same time and just finish Strange Fate. 🙂 I feel sad and nostalgic when I think about these books now, especially Strange Fate. Now that I’m almost thirty, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to experience it the way I would have when I was 16 years old, moving to Louisiana and completely adrift.

But just like a teenager, I’m waiting… and waiting… and waiting… to find out.

P.S. While researching online for this blog, I found the following paragraph on the Wikipedia page for The Vampire Series page. This horrifies me as both a fan and a writer:

Unfortunately, Smith stated in her blog on the 9th of February, 2011 that she was fired by Alloy Entertainment and that ‘Midnight’ is her last book. Alloy Entertainment will be hiring a ghostwriter to continue the series. She will still be mentioned as the creator of the series on the covers of the new books but she will have nothing to do with them. Smith has asked her fans not to boycott Harper. L.J Smith has also already given Alloy Entertainment her manuscript for ‘The Hunters: Phantom’, although there are no guarantees that it will be released, let alone with any of her input.

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