The Forbidden Game is a series written by the author L.J. Smith. Published originally in 1994, the series is comprised of three books (The Hunter, The Chase, The Kill), and has been reissued twice as an omnibus edition, in 1997 and 2010. A possible fourth book, currently known by the title Rematch, has yet to be released.
The Forbidden Game focuses on the character of Jenny Thornton, a seventeen year old girl living in southern California. In need of a game for her boyfriend Tom Locke's birthday party, she is enticed by a mysterious young man with "electric" blue eyes and snow-white hair, Julian, into purchasing an unmarked and undecorated game from his "More Games" store. However, the game she buys turns out to be more than anyone expected, as it very soon comes to life at the behest of Julian, who is in fact a supernatural entity: a Shadow Man who brings to life the worst nightmares of those he targets. Julian has a particular fascination with Jenny, as he has been in love with her since she was a child, and seeks to use his games and schemes to erode Jenny's resistance and make her his own forever.
The series takes much influence from world mythology and literature, especially Norse Mythology.
Main Article: The Hunter
The Hunter introduces Jenny Thornton, a young teenager who is seeking to purchase a game for her boyfriend, Tom Locke's, birthday. Luckily, she is able to locate a partially hidden game store, appropriately named "More Games", in an unsavory part of town. Here, she is met by Julian, whose striking and strange beauty startles Jenny. Unnerved by him, she seeks to leave, but the boy entices her with his words and soon withdraws a blank "glossy" box, stating that this is what Jenny is seeking. Entraced by it and encouraged by Julian, Jenny buys it and departs. As she leaves, in response to Jenny's "See you later", Julian ominously states "At nine".
Upon returning home with the game, against Jenny's better judgment, at the party she, Tom and their friends open and assemble the game, which resembles a small haunted house. The objective of the game is to have the paper doll pieces representing each player get to a turret at the top of the miniature structure. However, the main obstacle to the players will be nightmares: each must face their worst personal nightmare in order to progress. There are also the added danger of the Creeper (an enormous snake), the Lurker (a large wolf) and the Shadow Man, an entity akin to the Sandman, who brings nightmares rather than dreams and sleep. With mounting horror, Jenny notices that the piece for the Shadow Man is a perfect image of Julian.
In spite of her misgivings, as Tom and the others insist on playing, Jenny acquieses. After swearing a required oath that they all believe the game to be real, and that they can be harmed and die from it, Jenny and the others begin, but the messages on the game's playing cards quickly become more and more disturbing until, at nine, the group is knocked unconscious by a powerful, unearthly wind. They awaken inside the parlour of the miniature house, which has now become real. Julian appears and introduces himself, explaining that the game has now come to life and, as they had made the oath, they must now try reaching the turret by dawn to escape the house and Julian himself, who will keep them if they do not escape in time. When questioned about the point of the game, Julian only looks toward Jenny, commenting that every game has a prize, as Julian has loved Jenny for years and is using the game to win her permanently.
It is up to Jenny to lead her friends through their nightmares and out of the game by dawn, all the while pursued by Julian, the game being a "sporting" chance for Jenny to escape him.
The ChaseEditMain Article: The Chase
Having survived the events of The Hunter, Jenny and her friends attempt to readujst and return to their normal lives, though this is made difficult by the demise of their friend Summer in the last book, Tom's emotional distance from Jenny, which hurts her deeply, and Jenny's own lingering attraction to the fallen Shadow Man, Julian. However, it is soon revealed that Julian, now free from his imprisonment at Jenny's hands, has returned and wants Jenny to keep her promise to him before tricking him to save herself: having sworn to be his beloved forever, Julian has come back to make certain Jenny keeps that oath. Noting her reluctance, Julian offers her a chance with a new game: Lambs and Monsters. Julian shall seek out and capture Jenny's friends (all the original players of the first game), one by one, bringing them to his secret base with aid from the Creeper and Lurker. As he takes each one, he will leave behind their corresponding paper doll and a clue for who will be his next victim. If Jenny can find the hidden base and free her friends before Julian catches them all, she will be free of her promise to Julian.
The KillEditMain Article: The Kill
In the final installment of the trilogy, having captured Tom and Jenny's cousin Zach before she could free them in the game Lambs and Monsters, Julian invites Jenny and the remaining players to "come on a treasure hunt": a new game taking place in the Shadow World itself. Using notes of Jenny's grandfather, she and the others create a portal to the other realm and enter, finding themselves in a darker replica of Joyland Park, a theme park from Jenny's childhood created when her grandfather had first vanished. Julian instructs Jenny to find three gold coins throughout the hellish and dangerous park, as they will be needed to locate and free Tom and Zach. However, the park is full of several deadly traps, and not all had been designed by Julian: this park is in truth the Joyland for his fellow Shadow Men and the special, torturous prison for the bodies and souls of those they have caught.
Main Artile: Rematch
A possible fourth book for the series has been said to be in the works, with the tentative title of Rematch. Recently, a summarization of the book's plot had been released: the book will take place during the wedding of Tom and Jenny, which shall be interrupted by a potentially catastrophic event: Julian's rebirth and return for Jenny.
- Jenny Thornton: the protagonist of the series and longtime girlfriend of Tom Locke (stated to be his fiancee in Rematch). At age five she had discovered a dark secret in her grandfather's basement, which had caused the mysterious disappearance of her grandfather and precipitated into her own personal worst nightmare. Years later, needing a game for Tom's birthday, she discovers the More Games store and meets Julian, who seduces her into buying the game, starting a chain of events that brings the game to life and prompts Jenny and her friends to fight for their lives, experiencing their very worst fears. Julian designates her the main player of his games, and thus her friends are dependent on her to progress through each game Julian forces them to participate in. Her nightmare is a reenactment of the events in her grandfather's basement, although this allows her to learn more about what Julian truly is and what had actually become of her grandfather.
Jenny is shown to be a good-hearted, compassionate and kind person, though strong and courageous in her own right; it is these very attributes that Julian is attracted to, seeking to cherish her goodness and keep her with him. Despite her own mutual attraction to the Shadow Man, Jenny deeply loves her boyfriend, Tom, and always chooses him among other things and people. As such, she is later hurt by Tom's withdrawl from her in The Chase, and even risks her life to rescue him and Zach from the Shadow World in The Kill.
- Julian: the youngest member of an ancient, malevolent race known as Shadow Men. Despite his truly wicked, mercurial nature and history of terrorizing people for centuries, he experiences genuine love for the first time upon meeting Jenny, first seeing her when she is five years old. Ever since, touched by her goodness and innocence, he has followed and protected her, guarding her from harm, with the intention of ultimately making her his consort. However, when Jenny becomes a teenager and in spite of her love for Tom, Julian finally makes an overt attempt to gain her for himself, luring her into the More Games store and selling her the game which he later brings to life. He does this for two primary reasons: wanting to give her a "chance" to escape him should she defeat him at his own games, and because it is in his very nature to play games of chance with humans. He is not above using force or trickery however to get what he wants, and has mentioned several times that he is even willing to hurt or kill Jenny if necessary. Julian is also shown to hold a personal ire and jealousy towards Tom (and to some extent Zach). However, if Jenny is threatened by forces outside his control, Julian is shown to be highly protective and worried for her, even willing at one point to risk his own existence for her sake. Despite his character development, particuarly in The Kill, his return in Rematch seems to imply his revived desire to have Jenny for himself.
- As revealed in The Kill, like his fellow Shadow Men, Julian was not born but created, his name carved on a special rune stave that gives life to those whose names are carved into it. Additionally, despite his unearthly beauty, Julian will eventually lose his looks and become a deformed creature like the other Shadow Men. His name, Julian, is an admitted alias, derived from the Arabic word "djinn", from which the modern word "genie" comes.
- Tom Locke: Jenny's longtime boyfriend, later fiance in Rematch. He is described as "devilishly" handsome, with brown hair and hazel eyes. He had met Jenny in second-grade, the two sharing their first kiss behind a bush, and had been together ever since. However, over the years, due to Jenny's love for him, Tom had become somewhat "sure" of her, often taking advantage of her kindness towards him; he is the one who prompts Jenny into also participating into the game, though personally she has no desire to participate, only doing so for Tom's sake. Once inside the paper house, he reacts with anger, which Jenny interprets as guilt for what has happened. Correctly deducing Julian's intentions towards Jenny, Tom tries to fight the Shadow Man, but Julian unleashes Tom's own personal nightmare - rats - on him. When the game begins, Tom is taken by Julian and imprisoned at the top of the house, receiving Julian's "special attention". His torture under Julian and witnessing of the others struggle through their nightmares chastises Tom, who develops a new appreciation for Jenny.
- In The Chase, humbled by his experience, he keeps away from Jenny, intimidated by Julian's attractiveness and sorrowful for his past treatment of Jenny, unaware of how his behavior hurts her, though he aids her and the others against Julian in the new game, Lambs and Monsters. Though the couple reconciles at the end of the book, in an attempt to go back for Zach, both he and Jenny's cousin are captured once again by Julian and taken to the Shadow World, prompting Jenny to enter the realm herself and save them in The Kill.
- Deidre "Dee" Eliade: Jenny's oldest and closest friend, Dee is described as being as beautiful as an African princess, and is highly skilled in fighting and martial arts, even attempting to fight Julian himself. She has a passion for combat and danger, and is often looking out for Jenny, encouraging her when she needs it most; Dee's martial arts techniques prove critical to Jenny's eventual plan to escape Julian. However, for all her strength and battle-prowess, Dee is unnerved by technology, which causes friction between her and her mother (a computer teacher). Jealous of Audrey's closeness to Jenny, Dee and Audrey share a strong rivalry and constantly bicker, although as they go through Julian's games, they eventually come to an understanding, fully at peace by the end of the series. Her personal nightmare involved being captured by grotesque aliens and being subjected to horrific experiments, unable to do anything to stop it.
- Audrey Myers: the sophisticated daughter of a retired ambassador, Audrey only recently joined Jenny's friends the previous year. Described as practical and efficient, she is often at odds with Dee, who is stated to be jealous of Audrey's closeness to Jenny. Audrey additionally observes Tom's tendency to take Jenny for granted, insisting Jenny is being "too good" for him. However, after facing her nightmare, she admits to having had a lonely childhood with much "culture shock" from continual moving from country to country. She often talks disparagingly about her boyfriend Michael behind his back, insisting he is a "bookmark" until she meets somebody else, although in truth the two love one another deeply. Her nightmare, influenced by her family's stay in Germany at age eight, is of the Black Forest and its darker legends, including the Norse dokkalfar and Erlking.
- Michael Cohen: Audrey's boyfriend and the humorous, sarcastic member of the group. Michael is often providing witty comments and quips, even in the face of danger, though he is the most prone to hysterial fits. Both Audrey and himself act flippant about their relationship, though due to Julian's dangerous games, it is shown deep down that both love one another. He is shown to be a very bright young man, as Jenny claims he has an A in world literature, and has several classical literature, psychology and physics books in his home, his father being a science-fiction writer. His nightmare involved turning into a headless plant, influenced by a story he'd read in third grade.
- Zachary "Zach" Taylor: Jenny's cousin; a photographer and artist. He is often cool and detached from others, though he has some regard for Jenny as his family. Furthermore, when Jenny attempts to accept Julian's proposal to her, Zach is the only member of the group to react with uncharacteristic fury for her. The disappearance of their grandfather has impacted Zach as well, causing a lifelong fear that madness might be inherited among the family, and that Zach will one day succumb to it. His nightmare encompasses a futuristic, armored hunter, his own darker self, seeking to destroy him.
- There is a mild implication that Zach is attracted to Jenny, as Julian is able to seduce her while disguised as Zach, and later states that her cousin in truth does have feelings for her (though this may be jealousy on Julian's part). In The Kill, impressed with her newfound strength, Zach becomes somewhat fascinated with Summer instead.
- Summer Parker-Pearson: a childhood friend of Jenny, described as being slight and small, with "thistledown" blond hair and blue eyes. She is often compared to a rabbit, and is designated someone that needs protecting. In The Hunter, she is the only one who does not make it through her nightmare: a room filled with piles of garbage and hideous refuse, inhabited by gigantic roaches and other insects, and howling malevolent fungi. This had been inspired by her grandmother's shock at seeing her cluttered room. She is presumed dead when she fails to emerge from her nightmare with the others, and the group is forced to undergo heavy suspicion and questioning when they return to the real world regarding Summer's disappearance. Her demise heavily impacts Jenny. In truth, for Jenny's sake, Julian secretly spared Summer's life and kept her in the Shadow World until The Kill, when she is reunited with the others in Joyland Park.