The Hunter by L. J. Smith

A review of the supernatural Young Adult horror The Hunter by L. J. Smith.

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Danger. Seduction. Fear. Temptation.

The weather forecast puts a dent in Jenny’s pool party plans for her stud boyfriend’s birthday and she desperately searches for something, anything, that will rescue the night.

(Hang in there, this may sound oh so pretentious, but it certainly redeems itself).

Jenny chooses, as she has done all through her life, quite a rough neighbourhood to wander down in search of something unique and, realising she is being followed by two dodgy guys, stumbles into the first open doorway to hide. She finds herself in a strange and eclectic board game store that is run by Julian—a strange, odd, and seriously beautiful guy, who both intrigues and terrifies Jenny. Thanks to Julian’s peculiar gameplaying knowledge and advice, Jenny buys a game and hurries back to get everything set up for the evening. As her friends and boyfriend Tom arrive at her home, Jenny grows unnerved about the game and decides against playing it, right at the same moment that her friends find it and begin assembling the pieces of a model paper house. Each one of them feels the strange pull, the inexplicable allure of the game, but none are prepared for what happens next.

The writing in The Hunter is simple, perhaps a little flowery in places, and absolutely perfect for the action, the fast pace, and the young adult audience (well, at least it certainly ticked all my boxes when I first read this story at fourteen). It also has some interesting words sprinkled in here and there to broaden the vocabulary and had me reaching for my online dictionary. One aspect of the writing that I loved—and still love every time I revisit this book—is the vivid, often grotesque, and somewhat graphically-lavished descriptions of the darker scenes of the story.

He tried to take a step, then stopped… His bare foot was rooted to the floor by a mat of white tendrils.

They were growing out of his sole and into the black carpet. He could barely raise his foot an inch, and only by turning it sideways could he see the roots.

The Hunter by L. J. Smith

Jenny’s character is squeaky-clean perfect, which, at times, edges on irritating, but it’s the contrast of her innocent perfection against Julian’s darkness that creates such a powerful and insatiable pull between them; the protagonist and the antagonist. Jenny’s perfection also acts to starkly highlight the mistakes and wrong choices she makes along the course of the story.

As I read, I found I could very easily understand and empathise with antagonist Julian, and with his somewhat unreasonable methods. He is, for me, a perfect antagonist—magical, intelligent, captivating and somewhat innocent, an underdog with much to prove—and I always found myself very pleased to turn a page and find him in the next scene. Some of the techniques he stoops to in order to ‘obtain’ Jenny are more than a tad questionable, but at other times the way he treats her is how any girl wants to be treated; he completely adores her.

I’ve read a few other reviews of The Hunter and am relieved to say I’ve found many other readers have been similarly affected by antagonistic Julian. After all, if readers discover all about an antagonist and witness their twisted ways, and yet would still happily run off to a fictional dark underworld with them for all eternity, then the antagonist, and the author, are truly unique and wonderful.

Another box this story ticks for me is the possibility that, running alongside our own world, is a darker underworld that we feel but can’t see, sometimes sense but cannot touch. It comes with the remembering of folklore and riddles and runes which, when put together with a steaming hot antagonist and a group of teenagers all desperately trying to survive their worst nightmares, creates a very addictive story.

If you like deep, character-driven stories with lots of bubbling emotion and consequences then this may not be for you, but the balance of action and the insatiably strange relationship between Jenny and Julian makes it a firm favourite book of mine.

The Hunter was first published in 1994, and soon followed by The Chase and The Kill to complete a trilogy named The Forbidden Game. Author L. J. Smith went on to write the ever-popular The Vampire Diaries, where she successfully created another hard-to-explain pull of love and desire between seemingly good and bad characters.

I hope this review has helped you make up your mind about reading The Hunter, but I must go now; the second instalment of The Forbidden Game trilogy, The Chase, is beckoning me to open it.

Rebecca Delphine is a Young Adult author from Thanet.

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