Recap #98: The Forbidden Game #2: The Chase by LJ Smith

The Author:

Who uses really oddball descriptions of things, repeatedly. Seriously. What the hell are spaniel eyes?

Maybe? I don’t know. But one character, Michael, always has some kind of spaniel eyes going on. And Audrey with her spiky lashes and bangs. The same thing. All the time.

And who others the crap out of every POC character in her book to extremes. It was really bad in THE CHASE. Really, really bad.

[Wing: Good times, good times. Adorable dog. And I still love Teen Creeps taking on this series. Here’s their episode for The Chase.]

The Blurb: Why is her boyfriend Tom avoiding her – while other boys pursue her as never before? Jenny Thornton has changed. So have her friends. Because of Julian, the Shadow Man, who has returned to terrorize them with a new game, a hunting game, Lambs and Monsters. They’re the lambs, to be stalked, pounced upon, and lost to the Shadow World forevermore. The monsters are the Lurker, a ghostly wolf, and the Creeper, a phantom snake. One by one, Jenny’s friends disappear, leaving behind only a paper doll – and a riddle with clues about who will be next . . . . Jenny must find Julian’s hidden base and save her friends before it’s too late. But how can she resist the predatory prince of darkness who has returned to make her his own?

That entire first sentence can just be erased and it won’t take anything away from the blurb, mainly because it really doesn’t fit and because it’s such an infinitesimal part of the story as to be largely unimportant. Mainly because Jenny knows she’s changed and she figures out on her own why and how. It has nothing to do with boys. Damn YA books.

[Wing: My god, that game sounds amazing. I want to play Lambs and Monsters.]

The Place: This time mostly within Jenny’s neighborhood and home. Julian decides to bring the game to them, to every place they always felt safe he takes it upon himself to violate. Goes along with the mindfucking he does in this book and quite honestly, I kind of love it a little. [Wing: I love the transition from them being in his strange, terrible place to him being in their place, where they are comfortable and safe and happy. Twisting that is a great horror trope.]

The Players:

Everyone from the last book minus Summer. Whaa whaa.

Jenny – Her simpering has been reduced to a minimum, but she still pines for Tom a bit. Can’t say I really blame her, simply because they’ve been together for literally forever and he’s dropped off the face of the earth since getting back from the Shadow World. Do they talk to each other about it? Not really. Where would be the sense in that?

Audrey – Still putting on the air of having it all together but she’s actually a bit of a mess. After seeing through that facade it’s hard to go back and think of her as anything other than human. For all the show she does, no one’s buying it anymore. Not after what they all went through.

Dee – The angry black girl is still angry and hasn’t grown pretty much at all over the course of these books just yet. Despite everything she doesn’t seem to have developed a healthy sense of fear or reservation and is more than willing to jump balls first into whatever it is that’s happening because that’s what she does. [Wing: And that’s why I love her.]

Michael – Still an incredible coward and is largely useless.

Zach – The Debbie Downer of the group, but still largely the voice of reason who’s promptly told to shut up and we don’t hear much from him after that. He’s just kind of there.

Tom – He’s spiraled a bit, realizing that he’s completely taken advantage of Jenny and after watching her in the Shadow World he realizes she doesn’t need him like he needs her, and he knows she knows this too. He takes not being the center of Jenny’s universe hard and in an incredibly self-aware sort of way. But he still thinks the best course of action is stalking her. So there’s that.

Julian – Still a fairy creep who doesn’t like losing yet still likes to put on a front that he can’t lose. KNOW SOMEONE LIKE THAT??? He goes far more cerebral in THE CHASE and he actually doesn’t make too many appearances in this book, at least by half from the last one.


It opens with future serial killer Gordie hunting small animals up in the mountains and enjoying it way too much. As the reader you’re entirely in his head and he starts thinking about a nightmare he had where something was hunting him, but he shakes it off because as a human he’s at the top of the food chain. Until a mysterious black vapor makes him squeal like a pig and that’s the last we see of Gordie. That’s probably for the best. Not sure why Smith had to go so serial killer with him, maybe to make the death as callous and unsympathetic as possible. I have no idea. [Wing: I can see how she was maybe trying to tie it into the idea of hunters and prey, and how easy it is to go from one to the other.]

Then the real story starts with Jenny looking in the mirror and describing herself, especially her hair that looks like “honey in sunlight.” And there begins our weird descriptions all over again. Granted I think this is the only time this particular description is mentioned. But we’re not saved from the rest.

In an event that could only happen in pre-Columbine America, Jenny’s accosted by a strange girl in the bathroom whom she knows doesn’t go to their school. Apparently this girl was friends with the two boys who broke into Jenny’s house to steal the Game and now their names are associated with Summer’s disappearance, but she knows the truth. I figured this was going to go all I Know What You Did Last Summer. But it doesn’t. It’s just kind of an awkward way to introduce a secondary character that doesn’t have any real relevance until toward the end of the book.

She leaves the bathroom only to have the pay phone right next to her (ah, pay phones, my school had one of those) start ringing. There was no one waiting around for a call (I know this used to be a thing, but it’s weird and kind of seedy) [Wing: Waiting around for a call is weird and kind of seedy? Because for a long time, that was the only way to get a call when away from home. Also, you had to pay to make calls, but if they called you, you didn’t have to, so people would real quick call with the number and then wait for the person to call back.] so she answers it only to hear a strange hissing on the other end of the line. It could have been a voice, but it was hard to tell.

She goes to find Audrey, who still has spiky copper bangs, and Dee, who’s traipsing around the locker room naked (hooray for self-confidence!) and who is described as “beautiful and lithe and supple as a jet-black panther.” Why? And even bigger why is when Smith starts assigning a barbaric and/or savage smile to Dee. NO. Nonononononononononononono. God, stop. Please? [Wing: Oh LJ Smith no.]

The group hasn’t sat together at lunch since they got back because people look at them funny, as if the story they told was ridiculous and they actually had something to do with Summer’s disappearance. Considering Jenny had the brilliant idea of telling the cops the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, this is no surprise. [Wing: Right? How did she think that was going to go?]

Then we get some awkwardly placed exposition that goes back to the night of the Game and Jenny’s recounting what happened in her head and she claims to have not realized how crazy her story sounded until she said it out loud. Really? Saying it out loud was what made it sound ridiculous?
Of course no one believed a thing they said to the point where they were all drug-tested for LSD because why the fuck would you tell anyone the truth in this case? Seriously.

Not only is Summer missing but the two boys who stole the Game are missing too and the police think it’s all connected. The group does too, but for completely different reasons.

Enter the wise old black grandma, Aba, who basically told the kids to STFU because they’re not doing themselves any favors divulging everything. Oversharing hurts and the kids stopped. The policy were convinced something bad did happen and they all had just brain-fucked their way into this story to save them the memories of what actually happened. Not an absurd notion, actually. They all passed lie detector tests and were eventually released to their parents.

After all of that a center was set up to search for Summer and it all spiraled out of their control. But Jenny quickly realized it could work in their favor. They could use the time searching for Summer to search for the Game. If PC and Slug (fantastic names for the two thieves who stole the game from her) could get into it then they could potentially release Julian. Which would be bad.

Zach was the only real voice of reason in the group who spoke out against the uselessness that is postering and Jenny basically told him to fuck off, which he does. This shocks everyone and begins the never-ending awareness of Jenny’s personality shift throughout the book. I like her change in personality, but it is talked about a lot. Like a lot a lot. It got old.

Some mega-jock asked Jenny to prom but she shot him down because she’s still hinging on her threadbare relationship with Tom despite the fact that he’s been MIA for the past couple of weeks. As she walks into the school she feels someone watching her only to have it turn out to be Stalker Tom. He stays in the shadows and hovers over Jenny’s life like a creep because he thinks he’s going to lose her and that there’s nothing he can do about it. So he hovers in her peripheral as a means of “protecting” her. Ugh. I love this level of self-awareness in time (granted that self-awareness vacates his sensibilities when it comes to stalking) but it’s a little too much wishful thinking for a teenage boy, I think.

At this point Tom’s convinced Julian’s going to come back so his mission is to protect Jenny from Julian. While he’s stalking the girls, though, he gets the feeling of being stalked himself that he can’t shake. [Wing: Not so fun when it’s turned around on you, is it, Tom?]

Audrey and Jenny go postering (is this a 90s term? I know the action of handing out flyers but I’ve never heard this term used before) and as they drive into Summer’s neighborhood Smith describes the scene in a really odd way:

“They were actually near Summer’s house now, in the kind of neighborhood where cars tended to be slightly dented, on blocks, or in pieces in the sideyard. The afternoon seemed brighter here, and on the sidewalk the usual kids with sun-bleached hair and freckled limbs or night-black hair and brown limbs were running around.”

I’m not sure what to do with this. It feels wrong but I can’t quite put my finger on why. It’s almost like she’s romanticizing a lower-income neighborhood for some reason and it really bothers me. [Wing: That is exactly what she’s doing.] Especially considering both Summer and Audrey are at minimum well off (shit, Audrey’s car is a Spider, and considering her wealth it’s more than likely the Alpha Romeo kind) this just seems . . . patronizing. Tone deaf, at least. Like she’s looking at it all as if “how quaint” and it bugs the shit out of me.

They get out and go door to door. One house lets them in and Jenny comes across a little girl reciting a Red Riding Hood story. When they come upon a group of their siblings all playing a game called Lambs and Monsters, where the lambs risk getting eaten by the monster, she finds it all rather gruesome and wonders if children’s stories and games have always been this violent. [Wing: Yes. And awesome. And #needsmorewerewolves.]

It starts getting dark while they’re still out and Jenny gets the sense that something is following them. I really like when Smith describes primal fear, about it going back to a time where instinct took over because it was eat or get eaten. But she relies on it a lot. Not surprising considering her overuse of the same weird descriptors. Obviously I think it’d have more impact if she used it less.

Both girls freak out and run back to the car only to find out it was just Tom in the bushes, but he was chasing something that turned out to be a dog. All that drama for nothing. [Wing: #NEEDSMOREWEREWOLVES]

Tom ended up driving Jenny home after that little incident and he finally lays his issues bare with her: he’s jealous of Julian on top of Jenny changing and no longer needing him. Not surprisingly Jenny’s having none of that even though she admits to herself she does react to Julian in some way, and promptly breaks up with Tom over it. [Wing: Very proactive, Jenny. Tom is being weird and creepy (…though considering Julian, she seems to like weird and creepy), and if he’s going to turn this relationship on whether she needs him or not, that’s weird.]

She briefly confides in her parents before squirreling herself away in her room. She sneaks out to go in the pool in the middle of the night because she felt she needed a cleanse and some weird talk of sensuality comes into play that doesn’t come in again at all in the book but for some reason it’s brought up here. She wonders if this is what people are noticing in her, that she’s more sensual and sure of herself. While she’s floating in the pool she notices how it feels more sensual against her skin and that she feels things differently now. But then something unknown weirds her out and she goes back inside.

I wonder if this was a tip of the hat to a teenage girl’s blossoming sexuality. Labyrinth was rife with that, and purposely. David Bowie’s Jareth was supposed to be this uncomfortably alluring and terrifing figure that made Sarah question her own feelings and where she stood on that line. I wonder if this is Smith doing the same thing, especially considering Jenny’s pull to Julian and her own repulsion of that pull. Otherwise I have no idea what the purpose of this scene actually is.

Earlier that evening the phone had rung and when she picked it up there was just a hissing on the other end. Now, in the middle of the night, the phone rings and no one else seems to hear it. When Jenny picks it up that hissing is there again only this time it forms into an actual word: famished. She immediately thinks of Little Red Riding Hood: all the better to eat you. And that does her in. [Wing: I love this so much. Obviously, I am primed to like Little Red Riding Hood metaphors and allusions, but this is just great.]

It’s at this point in my notes where I tell myself to tell Smith to get on with it. I really like all the mindfucking, but these moments are few and far between at this point. More time is spent walking around looking for a Summer they’re never going to find and whiny Tom being whiny than actually getting to the meat of the story and advancing the plot. Not surprising for a second book that it’s a little slow but this is literally half the book before things really start to pick up.

Then we get Michael, ever the rational one (when he’s not being a total coward), trying to explain modeling and the things a brain can do when under stress. He uses this to explain away the things Jenny’s been hearing and seeing as basically her brain making shit up. Not an illogical explanation but a little too hyper-rational for the situation. I imagine, since we’re not in Michael’s head, that he’s completely freaking out about everything and is trying to convince himself none of this is happening just as much as he’s trying to convince Jenny the same.

Jenny uses this as an excuse when her computer wigs out on her in ways it couldn’t possibly wig but she isn’t much buying it. And neither are the others as the book hops into Michael, Audrey, Zach, and Dee’s heads briefly to showcase what they’re seeing. I do like how Smith is getting out of Jenny’s head a little bit, even if it’s out of necessity. Not sure how else she would portray these things happening to the others as effectively without getting into their heads at least a little. Not to mention everyone’s wearing their brain modeling in the bags under their eyes as they battle the crap they had to deal with back in the Game all over again.

Meanwhile in Stalker Land, Tom sweet talks some information out of a female officer (gross, lady, he’s jail bait, literally, pull yourself together) about the location of where his classmate got mauled up on the mountains. When Tom goes up there he finds a black tar-like substance that was apparently missed by the police, or disregarded entirely. It’s then he knows for sure. It wasn’t a mountain lion that killed old Gordie.

Dee shows up with Cam, Summer’s little brother, to tell Jenny that he’s found Jenny’s mystery crying girl from the beginning of the book. Her name is Angela and they go to her house and Jenny just lets herself in. Angela initially freaks out but gives Jenny the information she’s looking for without too much trouble. Way to hold your ground there, girl.

Turns out PC and Slug went into the shed out back and never came out. Angela takes them out back and opens the shed for Jenny to find the Game, the house all held together with electrical tape only it looks like it exploded. Or that something exploded out of it as shredded bits of paper are everywhere. This must mean that Julian’s escaped. No amount of brain modeling can make this shit up. And when Jenny goes to look for the ring she put in that box, it’s nowhere to be found. [Wing: Good job, PC and Slug. Way to ruin everything.]

They run into Tom again because he’s still stalking Jenny and they all go back to Audrey’s house with the Game. Tom confirms what Jenny and Dee think and tell them that the Creeper and the Lurker are out too, that it was the Lurker that was chasing after Audrey and Jenny that night. And tensions run higher.

But of course prom. Jenny tries to cancel on her hunk date but fails and when Tom find out about it he moodily leaves the group again. Audrey has to remind her that he really hasn’t been a part of their group since they all got back from the Shadow World and Jenny grudgingly agrees. Props to Audrey for slapping at least a little bit of sense into Jenny when it comes to taking Tom’s shit. When they’re buying dresses for prom Audrey pushes a slinky number on Jenny that Jenny claims Tom would never let her wear before. Let’s all give a big ol’ fuck you to Tom, shall we? Audrey, join in.

They’re at prom and the entire time Jenny’s miserable because she feels bad for how much the guy is into her and she just feels absolutely nothing for him. Instead of Changed Jenny coming out and just saying she’s not that into him she breathes a heavy sigh of relief when someone cuts in on him while they’re dancing and takes her away.

Enter Labyrinth’s ballroom scene. Because it’s a masquerade and her mysterious dance partner is wearing a mask. [Wing: I was going to ask why prom is a masquerade, but you know what? I’m just going with it. It’s allusion and metaphor. And, honestly, a prom masquerade sounds awesome.]

As they danced Jenny kept her head down because looking up at him meant inviting a kiss, which she didn’t want (is that really a thing?). But then she noticed her surroundings changing. Things slowed down, the music changed tempo, and then before she knew it she was on the balcony alone with her partner and a deep feeling of dread that had been creeping up on her all night finally coming to a head. She also felt a need to stay where she was, though. Because decisions.

When she finally looks up she sees the white blonde hair behind the mask and the person leans down and whispers famished in her ear in a hissing, snake-like voice. This whole scene is actually written really well, from the time Julian cuts in on Jenny to now, just how she describes how dreamlike everything becomes, how it all slows down. I can actually hear the music slowing and turning just a hint sinister, darker. [Wing: I wish they’d make these books into a movie or a tv series or something. The visuals would be gorgeous.]

Jenny consigned herself to death pretty quickly, telling Julian to just do it, thinking he was going to kill her. He says okay, but of course he just wants to kiss her, which he does. She responds bodily, all the while counter thoughts running through her head. Eventually she pulls herself together enough to push him away.

Julian’s there to claim what’s his as sworn to him by the oath Jenny took and by what’s engraved on her ring. She’s like no so he gives her two options: he can force her (I guess the consent thing from the first book is out the door since she consented to the oath in the first place?) [Wing: Yeah, I think it’s one of those things were she already consented and in this weird, twisty Julian world, she can’t revoke that consent. Real world: YOU CAN ALWAYS REVOKE CONSENT AT ANY TIME.] or she can play another game. This time it’s Lambs and Monsters, the same game the kids were playing when she was postering with Audrey. He’ll start kidnapping all of her friends that were with her in the first Game, starting with Audrey, and if she can find his base she and everyone else will go free. If she doesn’t she goes with him.

Scene change to Audrey walking on the beach with her date, whom she dumps and leaves on the sand to return to the dance. Only she’s attacked by the Creeper and would have gotten shoved into a dark abyss if it weren’t for Stalker Tom fending the creature off and saving her. For now. He stabs it with a pocket knife and it slides into the abyss itself. The three of them round up the rest of the group and head to Michael’s for the night.

I would just like to mention Zach’s “vaguely oriental black outfit.” Is this saying he’s dressed like a ninja without actually saying he’s dressed like a ninja? Because I’m not sure what else that’s supposed to mean and it’s kind of awful. Also Dee going “lynx-eyed” (WTF even is that?) and having a jaguar look. Stop. Please?

At Michael’s Jenny tells them about seeing Julian, leaving out the kiss of course, and about the new game she roped them all into. [Wing: Good going, Jenny.] While they’re all nomming on some Cracker Jacks Audrey rips into her prize only to find a slightly off-kilter poem that they all deduce to be a clue from Julian.

Of course they all think they can outsmart Julian by solving the clues in advance and protecting the person targeted in that clue. They’re all thinking the kidnapping will happen in the same manner that Audrey was nearly taken and they gear up for that. Audrey gets up and walks into the kitchen, talking the whole time, only to abruptly stop. Jenny calls out to her and doesn’t get a response. She runs into the kitchen and starts screaming. Chapter ends. Dun dun dun! Smith doesn’t really do cliffhanger chapters but this one was pretty solid. [Wing: See, Stine? (And, lately, Thacker, too.) Cliffhanger chapter endings can be useful! When you don’t waste them on every. single. chapter.]

In the kitchen, in Audrey’s place, was her doll that she drew from the first game sitting in a faded black spot on the floor. This is where Dee investigates the floor “like an ebony huntress” and then later curls up like a “sleeping lioness.” For fuck’s sake, Smith. STOP. [Wing: Or make her a fucking shapeshifter. Something.]

At this point they decide to stick together all the time. They telephone around to their parents about a project they need to work on so they can all stick together. Kind of a weak excuse and the parents kind of suck for not questioning this at all, but at least the kids have the foresight to think that their parents aren’t completely dumb and will start asking questions eventually.

They go get Zach and he and Jenny are in his garage and we get this overly long scene with Zach rambling on about this surrealist painter that ultimately ends up being foreshadowing to his own kidnapping. To further add to that foreshadowing Zach’s dad disallows him from going anywhere because he’s been disappearing more lately and he’s having none of that.

They go back to Michael’s apartment and Jenny has a vivid dream with Julian where he gives her another clue having to do with Zach. Of course it includes that painter Zach was talking about. She has trouble waking herself up but once she does she gets everyone to motor.

In true Sarah fashion Jenny hangs onto the “it’s not fair” mantra regarding the clues, lamenting about Julian doling them out and how he has to otherwise it wouldn’t be fair, or sporting, to use his own words. I wonder what her basis for comparison is.

Jenny wakes up with the ring stuck to her finger. She’s unable to get it off and Tom’s being kind of a dick about it, effectively blaming her for it being there and holding it against her. You’re annoying, Tom. ANNOYING.

Enter Michael’s sarcastic spaniel eyes. Anyone? Got anything on that one? [Wing: WTF, Smith.] Unfortunately she moves too slow and by the time they all get to Zach’s house he’s gone, replaced by his paper doll and a circle of soot. From there they all go to Aba’s where the wise old black woman tells them all a story about evil killing a boy and the girl who loved him saving him and bringing him back to life. At this point in the story it’s vaguely relevant but, like everything else, it’s there for a reason. [Wing: Like the way stories keep threading through this. Dislike the Magical Negro trope.]

They go back to Michael’s again and Jenny zones out in front of a window that begins to ice up despite the weather. An invisible finger starts writing out Little Miss Muffet and after a brain dead moment of thinking she was next (duh) she connects the dots really quickly. Dee was just eating cottage cheese (curds and whey) and she and Michael went outside to move Audrey’s car (a Spider). [Wing: Okay, this is kind of delightfully creepy and clever.]

In this zone out she sees Julian again and he spreads his plummage boasting about how Jenny can’t win against him because he’s the master game player. Uh, dude. She won last time.

Scene change to Dee and Michael in Audrey’s car and the Lurker popping up in the back seat. Dee shoves Michael out of the car and rams the thing into a wall, jumping out of the car just before it hits. The Lurker still chased after her and when she throws open a door the Creeper is on the other side. By the time Jenny gets to the car Michael’s pulling himself up and all that’s left of Dee is a paper doll.

They all complain about the unfairness of the clues and their timing and how they don’t have a chance if they get the clues as people are getting taken. Jenny falls asleep yet again and dreams of Julian (again, I’m sensing a pattern here) and he shows her the giant game board of her life and how he moves the Creeper and the Lurker around. He mocks her with what he could do, mimicking putting one of the creatures near Cam, but he won’t because he promised to use only people in the Game the last time.

Before Jenny wakes up Julian gives her a silver rose, the same rose he gave her in THE HUNTER, and she wakes up with it and a note tied around it and remembering a clue he gave her about his base as well, that it’s a door. Only the note’s in French. Tom’s butthurt by the rose but still helps Jenny decipher it, except it doesn’t make sense when it’s translated.

She falls asleep again only to wake up hours later to Michael crashing around the room and Tom passed out. Jenny has an epiphany about the note, about how it doesn’t need to be translated but just read in English as is. It’s how the words are read that forms the clue. That’s when she realizes that Tom isn’t sleeping. He isn’t there at all. He snuck out to go back up the mountain to where Gordie was killed, thinking the base might be somewhere up there.

The clue, paddle your own canoe, starts making things click when Jenny finds out about Tom. She remembers there’s a creek up in the mountain and she realizes Tom is next. Michael feebly tries to stop her from going anywhere, saying he promised Tom he’d keep her there, but Jenny’s having none of that. [Wing: My god, Jenny, all the dudes around want to control you. Get rid of them all and find some new friends. You can keep the girls, they’re pretty great.]

At this point Tom’s overwhelming need to protect Jenny to the detriment of his own life is old and horribly creepy. Still doesn’t stop him from hunting down the Lurker with a stolen shotgun. The Creeper slithers up behind him as he’s aiming and he gets a couple shots off before the snake attacks. He’s able to wheel around and blow the thing’s head off, effectively taking both supernatural creatures out of the picture before random water floods in and takes him away.

By the time Jenny gets up the mountain Tom’s already gone and there’s a flash flood wash where no wash should be. Circling in a culvert is Tom’s paper doll sitting in a paper boat. The boat happens to be another clue, a riddle pointing toward Michael. He knows he’s next. He should because there’s no one else left.

He dissolves under the realization that he’s about to disappear, to the point where he makes Jenny stand outside the bathroom while he pees, she having to reassure him that the potty monster won’t get him. Smith’s words, not mine, and it was said in a scene that wasn’t meant to be condescending. At least I don’t think it was.

The riddle talked about him disappearing in a hole and he points out that a toilet bowl is a hole but Jenny, fed up with his cowardice (can’t say I blame her), tells him to just take a piss. Of course he disappears (thankfully not mid-stream). When he doesn’t respond to her she walks in and finds his doll sitting on the toilet seat.

All alone, the lights start flickering out around her, but Jenny now realizes where the door is. A door that she’s been through but not really. The door in Zach’s garage, the one she went through in the Shadow World. So she books it to Zach’s house. Lights continue going out all around her and the world gets darker and darker, to the point where she can’t really see. But she finds the door and just before she reaches it Julian grabs her and asks her if she ever thought he would actually let her reach it. Considering he pulled this last time it really shouldn’t be a surprise.

But Jenny’s will is stronger. She takes Julian off guard and shoves him into the void that’s opened up in front of her, jumping over it herself and into the garage. She gropes around for a flashlight, flicks one on, and finds the photo she was looking for, the one with the door that’s not actually a door. Julian tries to distract her by calling her name but she’s moving forward, knowing where to visualize the door knob in the darkness. The knob materializes in her hand, she yanks the door open, and falls through.

Everyone’s waiting for her on the other side, but now they’re all stuck. Of course he’s not going to let them out easily and sets a ring of fire around them. Stunned after falling through the door and getting blasted by the fire, Jenny takes a minute to shake it off and she thinks about the story Aba told them about the girl saving the boy from death (see, told you it was relevant). The girl swam through a river of fire and it burned her but she was okay on the other side. And then it clicked. It’s all an illusion.

Julian’s insistent that he doesn’t cheat and removing any chance they had of getting out would be cheating. So the fire mustn’t be real and they just have to walk through it to get out. The only one who’s buying that is Tom and together they walk through the fire.

To which Jenny says, “The shadows have no power over me anymore.”

And does anyone know what rushingly means? Someone’s arms tightened rushingly. Who adverbs rushing? [Wing: Verbing weirds language.

Smith does a great job with description as they walk through the fire, not backing down as Jenny works her way through it and feels every single flame as it licks her skin. She effectively felt like she was being burned alive but they make it to the other side of the fire, Zach’s garage, okay. After a minute of rejoicing they dive back in to bring everyone else through.

Audrey has to actively be dragged into the flames (can’t say I blame her since it all still feels real, and Dee even had blisters on her hand) but they all hold hands as they walk through. Only Zach slips out of Jenny’s grasp. She keeps pushing forward with the rest and they stumble out the other side. Tom offers to go back in and get Zach and Jenny wants to go with them but she’s too weak to move. So Tom dives back in alone.

Except he takes too long. The picture they stumbled out of goes up in flames, burning down to ashes as Jenny and her friends watch. For a second they all hug each other as they realize Tom and Zach are dead, having not come through before the picture finished burning. Until writing appears in the ashes.

Julian’s mocking her again, saying he has Tom and Zach and to come and get them. He wants her to play another game with him, I imagine thinking he’ll win this time despite the fact that he’s lost twice against her already. Best of five, I guess. [Wing: He’s very optimistic.]

Jenny doesn’t falter. She’s resolved and tougher than she’s ever been and she’s ready to dive back in and rescue Zach and Tom. The ring around her finger disappears and her obligation to Julian is done. She’s done with his shit and she’s getting Tom and Zach back. [Wing: I love the hell out of Jenny, especially at this point. She’s badass.]

Final Thoughts

Definitely a way better ending than the last book. That’s for sure.

I really liked the overall mindfuckery that Smith played in this book, although I wish she would have paced herself better with it. The first half of the book was really slow and then everything of note was dumped at the end. It played out a little jerky.

And then Smith’s othering of Dee. OMG she took it to 11 in THE CHASE. It was ridiculous. Just stop, Smith. Stop comparing Dee to panthers and lynxes and calling her smiles savage. Just stop. I mean, I guess Michael had those spaniel eyes so at least Dee wasn’t the only one getting compared to an animal, but not the same. Not even close.

I’m liking Jenny more as a character as the books go on. She’s really growing into her own and standing on her own two feet with fewer and fewer people as the story goes on. Julian’s forcing her to take a stand and she’s taking that challenge. Go, Jenny!

I’m looking forward to the last book in the series. I want to know where the story goes as Jenny dives back into the Shadow World. I have no doubt he’ll get beaten a third time because, you know. Patterns. But so far she’s kept everything pretty interesting and hasn’t fallen into the habit of reusing situations from the prior book. She just reuses oddball descriptions.

[Wing: Smith’s writing is interesting; really well done in places, but then she has the repetitive descriptions and the whole racist mess with how she writes Dee. I do love that even though this could have been a rehash of the first book (they play a game with Julian), it feels different in concrete ways. Not everyone can do that. I can’t wait for the final book.]