Context: I’ve decided to write some “retro” book reviews this summer. I’m defining retro as any book originally published more than 15 years ago. For all you L.J. Smith fans who may or may not be out there, today I’m reviewing a classic: Dark Visions.
I was originally introduced to L.J. Smith in middle school, when my friend handed me The Forbidden Game and said, “I think you’ll like this. Julian is hot.” LOL. Every few years, the nostalgia hits me, and I re-read TFG or Dark Visions, mostly because they’re my favorites, but also because I own them.
I’m not saying Dark Visions is perfect or anything. It was an older book even when I read it for the first time (it’s nearly as old as me). Although I do like L.J. Smith’s writing style, I can’t lie that the characters in Dark Visions sound like something out of a 1950s movie. Honestly, some of it has not aged well. But it’s still one of my favorite comfort reads.
Dark Visions is a trilogy (the three books are often found together now in an omnibus edition) following Kaitlyn Fairchild, a teen artist whose drawings are often prophetic. Because of her spooky powers, she feels out of place in her small town and is sort of viewed as the town “witch.” Then, destiny comes knocking when she’s recruited to an institute for psychics in San Francisco, where she joins four other teen psychics (Rob, Gabriel, Anna, and Lewis) to learn to hone her abilities. It becomes quickly apparent, though, that nothing is as it initially seems at the institute, and its enigmatic leader, Mr. Zetes, has recruited them for more nefarious purposes.
The first book in the trilogy focuses on Kait’s time at the institute and getting to know the other psychics. For the first time, she feels like she has real friends, and even falls in love for the first time, with psychic healer Rob. Unfortunately, she – and basically everybody, lol – butts heads with Gabriel, the bad boy of the bunch who may or may not have murdered someone.
Okay, maybe I just like these books because of Gabriel? L.J. Smith has always done misunderstood, broody antihero very well. Her books also tend to feature a central love triangle, between the main heroine, a well-liked golden boy (who is not without his own flaws), and a Broody McBroodypants. In Dark Visions, we of course have the Rob-Kait-Gabriel love triangle, with both guys appealing to different sides of Kait. I had sort of forgotten this until I re-read it (and this may be a bit of a spoiler, but these books are 30-years-old…), but it does come with the lesson that your first love won’t necessarily be your last, or only, love – and that you can love people in different ways. Which, duh…but still, I think it’s a nice lesson to impart, especially for teen readers. When you’re young, breaking up with someone can feel like the end of the world, but it’s definitely not. I promise you, you will love again, lol.
Part of the reason that Dark Visions (and L.J. Smith’s other books) might be so memorable/important to me, is because – back at the time I first read them – YA was not nearly the behemoth genre it is now. The YA section of our local library was several shelves against a wall crammed with delightfully pulp-y paperbacks. It was right before YA started to get really big in the mid- to late-2000s. Back then, I also read a lot of V.C. Andrews, which probably could be considered YA by today’s standards (perhaps except for all the, uh, incest…), it just wasn’t marketed as such at the time. I think it’s great there are so many options and subgenres of YA now. So many choices for teens! And for older millennials like me who read/write YA. Anyway, that was a bit of a tangent, but I think much of the reason L.J. Smith’s books will always hold a special place in my heart.
I just got some of Holly Black’s older books from the library (curbside pickup has been my best friend during the pandemic), so I think doing these types of retro reviews will be one of my summer projects. For now, happy Friday eve – and happy reading!
Hello dearies, and happy 2021! It’s been a strange year, to say the least, but I wish you all health and happiness in this new year! I spent my holiday vacation binging (bingeing?) season 2 of The Mandalorian with hubby (SO AMAZINGLY GOOD) and starting season 3 of my current guilty pleasure, Hannibal. (Very Christmas-y, I know.)
But, anyway, this post isn’t about any of that (even though this blog will be converting to a Mads Mikkelsen stan account very shortly…). The last book I read for 2020 has got me thinking about love triangles.
Now, some people really hate love triangles. I’m not in that camp – occasionally, I love a good, ol’ fashioned love triangle, especially if it’s done well, or if there’s a twist on it. There was one in the first two books of my Reborn series (Siobhan/Jasper/Jimmy), although I think my novella Rectify put a nail in that coffin. I realized there was a rather accidental one after I finished writing the third book, but I also put a twist on this in the next installment, Retribution. 😉 Sorry for the book plug, but I couldn’t resist…
The reason I’m thinking love triangles today, though, is because the book I just read did one…poorly. And I’ve been pondering why it didn’t work for me.
The book is Finale, the third book in Stephanie Garber’s Caraval series. Now, I’m definitely not here to bash this series. I enjoyed the first two books, and I generally liked the magical, whimsical world of games and deception Ms. Garber created. But in the second and third books, there was a love triangle between one of the main heroines, Donatella (Tella) Dragna, Legend (the gamemaster of Caraval), and Jacks/the Prince of Hearts (one of the Fates, the major supernatural/god-like race in the series).
Now, Legend and Jacks are both villainous types in these books. And it’s potentially interesting for the heroine to be caught between two villains (as long as she’s not merely their pawn). But it fell really flat for me, to the point where I was wondering…what is the point? Jacks is kind of a vivid, intriguing character, but why is he here? Why does this love triangle even exist? Even as a villain (or antihero), it would work if he serves as a foil to Legend, or gives Tella something Legend can’t. But most of the time, he’s just kind of there, being cruel and capricious, and Tella seems attracted to him for no reason. Legend goes through more of a character change than Jacks, but even that didn’t have as hard of a punch as it should have.
So, what does make a good love triangle? This example might show my, ahem, age, but I always liked the way L.J. Smith approached them in her novels back in the day. I still think and talk about her books…a lot (Exhibit A). Lol. They’re like thirty years old. It’s fine. But in her books, there was always a light-darkness theme going on with the love triangles her heroines found themselves in. In The Forbidden Game trilogy, Jenny was in love with Tom, her high school sweetheart, who represented light and safety to her. But the part of her that’s growing up, and possibly growing out of Tom, is intrigued by the danger and mystery trickster god Julian offers, despite his darkness. The books aren’t even that long, but Ms. Smith manages to show how Tom isn’t always the safety net Jenny has come to depend on, and how Julian isn’t all that he seems, either. They both offer her something she wants, even if those sides of her are in conflict.
For this next section, if you don’t want spoilers for The Infernal Devices, Splintered, or A Court of Thorns and Roses series, I would stop reading…right about…now.
The other twist on YA love triangles that seems to have become popular in recent years is that…it’s quite possible…to love more than one person during your life? I know it seems crazy, but it’s true! All kidding aside, I think this is an important message for teen audiences. And it makes for a better story! In Cassandra Clare’s The Infernal Devices trilogy, Tessa marries Will, and they have a very happy life together. But as he’s a shadowhunter and she has demon blood, she outlives him. Long after he’s gone, she reunites with Jem, the other love of her life. There’s a similar theme in A.G. Howard’s Alice in Wonderland-inspired trilogy, Splintered.
I’ve just decided I don’t want to spoil Sarah J. Maas’s ACOTAR series, but if you want to read a trilogy where all of your expectations after reading the first book are completely upended, in the best way possible, READ THESE BOOKS. IMMEDIATELY. Books don’t have to have a message, but I think this series does. It’s an important one and not incorporated in a “preach-y” way or anything like that.
I guess if this post has any sort of conclusion or advice, and isn’t simply me rambling, it’s this. Love triangles can be fun! They don’t have to be super complex or convey some sort of message, but each love interest should offer the central character something he or she wants – or fulfill them in some way – the other person can’t, emotionally or otherwise. It will be more interesting if each of the three characters has very clear internal and external motivations, especially if they come into conflict (and beyond just the fact you have two people fighting over the same person). Or, you know, they should at least be different in some way, and not basically the same person, lol.
Any thoughts about love triangles? I would love to hear them below!
Only two more weeks until Relapse comes out…..eek!!!!! Why did I decide to release it right after Thanksgiving again? Oh, right, because I love you guys, and I want you to have something to read over winter break. 😉
Before we go on with today’s post, I thought I’d mention I got a little (very, very little) writing done this weekend…335 words, to be exact. I’m working on a novella from Anna’s POV. The novella takes place somewhat parallel to the events in Reborn. I don’t know if I’ll do anything with it, or if it will become part of the next book. I’m mainly doing it to find her voice and flesh out her back story, since I want to incorporate more from her POV in future books.
But, anyway, that’s not what today’s post is about. I want to talk about influences: the authors, themes, and types of characters I’ve become obsessed with over the years. This may turn into a two-part post…we shall see…
1. Mischief and Mayhem
As a reader and writer, I’ve always been intrigued by the idea that there could be these otherworldly, always mischievous (and often malevolent) beings sort of lurking in the background, in worlds adjacent to our own, influencing it in ways we don’t realize. (Or sometimes, as they do in Reborn, they get very mixed up in our world.) It’s a totally freaky, even creepy idea–one I think is so much fun to explore in fiction, but nothing I actually believe in real life. When I was first playing around with the story that would eventually become Reborn, this is the concept I knew I wanted to capture. I wanted my supernatural beings to be volatile, mischievous, and manipulative–characteristics often embodied by The Fair Folk. I’m talking about the devious Fair Folk of Irish lore, or like Puck et al in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, not the Disney fairies like Tinker Bell, lol. To be quite honest, I don’t know a lot about Irish folklore besides what I’ve seen other authors use–and they’ve incorporated it quite well already into works of fiction, so I wanted to do something a little different.
I think Karen Marie Moning’s Fae are the best–but, as she is my favorite author, I’m probably biased. In Moning’s Highlander and Fever series, the Fae are arrogant, devious, and lethally seductive. Back in the day, I wrote a book review of The Immortal Highlander–my absolute favorite of her Highlander romance novels. Immortal’s antihero, Adam Black, is a good example of this type of character, although he’s not mischievous in a cruel way. The Seelie Queen places a curse on Adam that strips him of his immortality and makes him invisible. His is a hopeless case until he meets Gabby, a sidhe-seer–gifted with seeing beyond the glamour used by the Fae, and the only one who can see Adam. Since Gabby seems to be his only hope, Adam ingratiates himself into Gabby’s life and eventually convinces her to help him. It’s been awhile since I’ve read this book, but I remember Adam perched on Gabby’s desk at her law firm while she tried to get work done, nagging her. Obviously, that kind of behavior would be super creepy and annoying in real life, but the love-hate dynamic between Adam and Gabby made for a very entertaining book. It didn’t help that Adam’s glamour was that of a sexy Scottish Highlander, making it almost impossible for Gabby to resist him.
Moning went on to write the Fever series–a sexy urban fantasy series in which the walls between our world and that of the Fae become even thinner. The Immortal Highlander isn’t an official prequel to the Fever series, but it’s definitely where her books about time-traveling, sexy Scottish Highlanders start to get much darker, and it sets up the conflict for her later books. I think the Fever series was a pretty daring one–primarily, I’d call it an urban fantasy, but Moning combines elements of a bunch of different genres and just makes it work so well (mystery, sci-fi, romance, and they’re funny as hell). I’d say for marketing purposes, it’s a good strategy to choose one or maybe two genres that your work fits into, but her books have taught me that it’s okay to push the limits of a genre and mix things up a bit.
A very much related type of character is:
2. The Trickster
The Trickster is, according to TV Tropes, which I can’t stop reading lately, a type of character that “plays tricks or otherwise disobeys normal rules and conventional behavior.” This is definitely related to what I’ve described above, but I’m separating them out. We can depict these qualities in an entire race, like the Fair Folk (or the Olympians…), or in an individual character (whose peers may or may not embody these traits). I prefer the darker, more anti-hero-ish tricksters who use outright manipulation and deception to get what they want, without (much) remorse. They also pretty much pop in and out of places and situations as they like without a whole lot of consideration for rules or puny humans other people. Recent examples include Rumpelstiltskin on ABC’s Once Upon A Time and Loki in the Thor franchise. Another classic example (teehee) is Jareth from Labyrinth.
One of my other favorite trickster types is Julian from L.J. Smith’s The Forbidden Game. I’ve most definitely fan-girled over this trilogy before on this blog, but it’s one of my all-time favs. One of my friends introduced me to L.J. Smith back in freshman year or so of high school, and my life was changed, forever. (Dramatic much?) These books were already ten years old or so when I originally read them, and now…yes, I just confirmed on Wikipedia, The Forbidden Game is twenty years old. Aaaaaand now I officially feel old.
Anyway, I reread them this summer (they were first published as separate books, but since they’re short, they’re published now in an omnibus edition), and…they were still good. Sure, they’re written at about a middle school reading level, and, since they are so short, I noticed some of the repetition. Smith is a fan of the epithet, which, in a longer book, may help you remember each character–but, in a shorter book, it gets repetitive. Even so, there’s just something about Smith’s writing I’ve always loved. It almost has a beat to it–like poetry.
The Forbidden Game is an urban fantasy trilogy with a tiny blonde-haired, green-eyed protagonist named Jenny Thornton. Jenny starts out as an innocent, naive girl still dependent on her childhood sweetheart, Tom. (I mean, Tom’s nickname for her is Thorny. You don’t get any more disgustingly cute than that.) There’s mystery and magic from the start of Book One, The Hunter, when Jenny, who is being followed by two delinquent-types, takes refuge in a strange store called “More Games.” She buys a game in a plain white box, simply called “The Game,” from the even stranger boy running the shop. Of course, with his white-blonde hair and otherworldly blue eyes, he’s über attractive–and, despite his seeming indifference towards her, Jenny feels a strange connection to him.
That night, Jenny, Tom, and the rest of their friends start to play The Game, setting up a paper house and drawing their worst nightmares on sheets of paper. The next thing they know, they’re inside the paper mansion, transported there by the cyberpunk boy from the More Games store. His name is Julian, and he’s the youngest of an ancient race called The Shadow Men. In order to win Julian’s twisted game, Jenny and her friends must confront their worst fears–and, if they lose The Game, they lose their lives. Julian is a predator and master of manipulation (and very Jareth-esque). Of course, as the series goes on, you find out that Julian maybe isn’t the ultimate big bad he claims to be.
The Forbidden Game includes one of L.J. Smith’s favorite themes (and, okay, one of mine): the love triangle. Ms. Smith’s love triangle is usually set up as the relatively innocent girl caught between the good guy/hero type and the seemingly bad boy/antihero. In this case, Jenny’s good guy is Tom, and Jenny’s bad boy is Julian. Jenny knows that sweet and caring Tom is the guy for her, but she can’t help but be tempted by Julian’s beauty and charisma. These books are also about obsessive love: Julian is obsessed with Jenny and will do anything to have her.
Which brings us to one of my other favorite topics, and the final one for tonight:
3. Forbidden Desires
Two of my favorite themes in fiction are sin and temptation (well, what is perceived to be sinful by that character). Often, this takes the form of fairly-innocent-girl-gets-tempted-by-dark-sexy-mysterious-man’s-dark-world-of-…..darkness…..okay, I’m becoming less and less articulate as this post goes on, but you get the gist. 😉 Let’s just call it forbidden love/lust. This theme probably at least in part stems from the idea of sex as a sinful or evil act–perhaps a very Western/Christian notion. In some of these stories, the innocent heroine, initially intrigued by the sexy, devilish antihero, ultimately resists temptation and does the “right” thing. Going further with this interpretation, maybe it has something to do with the antiquated notion that women retain their virtue and innocence for as long as possible. And, even though I don’t agree with that, it’s a fun theme to explore in fiction. This is probably why Nathaniel Hawthorne, who was big on writing about sin, temptation, and the hypocrisy of the Puritans, remains one of my favorite classical authors.
Like I said, The Forbidden Game is the perfect example of this. Throughout the series, Jenny has to battle against her attraction to Julian in order to do the right thing and save her friends. But Julian’s influence on her isn’t all bad: Jenny transforms from the innocent girl who still relies on her boyfriend for everything into a more independent and confident young woman who thinks for herself. This theme of the allure of darkness is also a major theme in the musical The Phantom of the Opera. And in a certain 80s children’s fantasy movie.
With the relatively recent explosion in popularly of paranormal romance and other darker forms of romance and fantasy, the above types of characters and themes are fairly common right now–although not every author approaches them in quite the same way. These otherworldly characters, whether they’re the Fae, gods, fallen angels, vampires, etc., may be charming and alluring, but they’re also cunning, dangerous, predatory, and don’t play by our (human) rules. Of late, they’re also typically inhumanly beautiful, which further emphasizes their almost irresistible pull and maybe plays a little bit into the notion that not everything attractive is good for you.
When I think of what a paranormal romance is–just what exactly the genre encompasses–these types of characters and themes are what come to my mind. I think everybody is a little bit different with regards to this. Although many paranormal romances still have that major, initial element of forbidden love, some authors go on to develop a story that is a little more traditionally romantic/lovey dovey, and it’s this type of story a lot of readers are used to now. Since I’ve been marketing Reborn as a paranormal romance, I think a few people have been confused by how I chose to approach Siobhan and Jasper’s relationship. It’s not traditionally romantic–it’s passionate and intense, but also a roller-coaster ride, and even a bit scary at times. That’s because the, er, “classic” paranormal romances, like L.J. Smith’s work, combine themes from the romance and horror genres. I’m not even sure “romance” is the right word, except that it captures the passionate relationship between the two lead characters. But these stories are also about temptation, forbidden desires, obsessive “love,” good and evil, dominance and submission, predator and prey. The settings are dark, mysterious, and sinister–as are some of the characters.
If you’ve read Reborn, you may see now how the above ideas have influenced it. My Olympians are, for the most part, volatile, capricious, mischievous, and manipulative. And even the ones that aren’t completely devious have a dark side (as the tagline for Relapse says, everybody has one…although perhaps not quite to the extent that my characters do, lol). Siobhan isn’t completely innocent in the conventional sense, but she’s a bit of a small-town girl thrown, thanks to Jasper, into the darker, alluring world of the Olympians. Jasper is her forbidden fruit–Siobhan knows he’s dangerous, but is tempted all the same (and Jasper will go to any lengths to keep her). And, unlike the strong, “virtuous” ladies described above, Siobhan isn’t as good at resisting temptation. In Relapse, Siobhan’s struggle against this forbidden world is taken to a new level as she begins to realize she’s more like the manipulative, control-freak Olympians than she thought. As a final tease, you’ll also meet a new character in Relapse–a sexy, silly, trickster-type like Jareth or Julian. I’m excited for you to meet him. 😉