Published March, 1994.
He sold her the Game, and Jenny Thornton walked out mesmerized by Julian, the gorgeous cyber-punk with electric blue eyes and frost-white hair. When she and her friends open the plain white box at her boyfriend Tom’s birthday party, she chills to the warning: “Entering the Shadow World can be deadly. Do so at your own risk.” Spellbound, they piece together the cardboard Victorian house and decorate the rooms with their darkest nightmares. Suddenly the game is real! They’re in the house of horrors, running from The Shadow Man – Julian himself, who forces them to confront their worst nightmares or be lost in a private hell. It’s Julian’s game, and Jenny is the prize he’s stalked for years. He’ll do anything to win her as she bargains desperately for her body – and soul . . . (book back blurb)
Loved it. I need to get the sequels sometime in the near future.
I really liked Smith’s writing. Unlike Pike’s and Stine’s, it didn’t feel like a teenager’s voice forced. It felt so much more natural, like something I’d likely read today that has a better grasp on the teenage voice. I really felt it and I believed it. Smith made a hit where her counterparts’ weaknesses fell.
It had a slight Labyrinth feel to it but not as much as I originally thought. There’s the puppet master aspect, taking the victims away into his own playing field and putting them through a maze made out of aspects of their own minds. But the similarities ended there. Still, I liked what Smith did, turning everyone’s minds against them. Not to mention she isn’t afraid to make some kills when she needs to. They’re necessary for the plot, not serving it. I was creeped out a bit by Julian taking a liking to Jenny so young. I think she was about six? I didn’t have that creep factor with Labyrinth (I have no idea why because it makes no sense) but I was a bit squicked by it here.
I liked how the strongest characters were broken down and exposed. No one was safe and no one made it out of their nightmare undamaged. Even characters I didn’t really like to start off with I ended up liking at the end because any facade they had came crashing down. They were torn apart and the plot felt more real for it.
I haven’t read any of Smith’s other works (this was the one that appealed to me the most so I figured it was the best starting place) but I’d highly recommend THE HUNTER. I think it’s a great showcase of Smith’s writing and she ranks up there with Pike and Stine when it comes to not sparing her characters. It’s realistic and fantastically frightening all at the same time and I couldn’t get enough of it.