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.
- 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. Entranced 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 acquiesces. 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 parlor 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.
- Main article: The Chase
Having survived the events of The Hunter, Jenny and her friends attempt to readjust 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.
- Main 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 article: Rematch
A possible fourth book for the series has been said to be in the works, with the tentative title of Rematch. Not much is known about what this novel will encompass.
- The series takes much influence from world mythology and literature, especially Norse Mythology.