Terri and Julie are twin sisters who live beside an idyllic lakeside with their mother Karen and father Mike. Over their summer break the sisters and their father are involved in a car accident which leaves Julie in a wheelchair. The accident tears the family apart, turning sister against sister and father against mother. Terri finds solace in her long term boyfriend Scott but Julie, under self imposed exile in her room, has no one except for the voice who speaks to her through her Ouija board.
Published in February 1983 by Bantam, the novel was the first in the Dark Forces series of horror novels that were designed for a young teen audience. Horror was a major force for the teen market at this point in time, even films designed for a younger audience often used much darker imagery and ideas than they would these days. The influence of writers such as Stephen King cannot be over emphasised as instrumental in this but another Steven, Steven Spielberg also did a great deal to treat children with a more sophisticated way. The early 1980’s was a fascinating time in terms of entertainment for younger audiences, magazines were released that examined the paranormal and television had scores of shows that did the same. Even children’s after-school television was over run with creepy entertainment that maintained a surprising strength in atmosphere and tone.
The Dark Forces series of books followed this trend and “The Game” clearly indicated where the series would go in terms of content; though not necessarily in quality.
“The Game” follows a familiar story of young girl possessed from beyond by a force that strives to destroy all that is good in her life. Anyone who has watched The Exorcist will easily see where the story is going and can probably predict the end with some accuracy but originality isn’t really the point with the young adult novels; originality is in fact almost the antithesis of the aim of these novels. The aim of the Dark Forces series was to take already established story ideas and rewrite them into the current trends of its teen audience, and it has to be said that the series often managed this surprisingly well. The amount of people who still collect and read these novels is a testament to this.
Unfortunately “The Game” is not the best example of this of the series, it isn’t even writer Les Logan s best example, but perhaps this can be forgiven as this was the first of the series. Undoubtedly it took some time for the series to find its feet and discover the levels of violence and subversion that was acceptable by its purchasers. It must be bore in mind that the series purchasers and their actual readers were often not the same people as many parents would vet the books before they made their way to their ultimate audience.
This is obviously not an enviable place for an author, balancing their work between the teens who would beg for more while their parents begged for less.
Even taking this into account “The Game” is a far less effective book than some of the later additions to the series. There is a heavy reliance on proper nouns, often bogging down the dialogue in a way that isn’t ungrammatical but is unrealistic. After some thought it becomes obvious that this isn’t because the writer lacks the talent but because, as Logan is writing for a young audience, there is an excessive attempt to make things clear for the reader. Later books in the series makes less of an attempt at this and are better for it, but as I have said “The Game” was the first so perhaps the editors relaxed their requirements later as they realised it wasn’t as necessary as they had thought.
In spite of all the negatives “The Game” is still an enjoyable pulp read, and an interesting snap-shot of the teen psychology of the early 1980’s. Even though the are instances where the female leads ruminate on their relationships it is not off-putting and I found it to be a great deal less irritating than more modern books of a similar type. The emphasis in “The Game” is more on family and sisterly love and the lead characters male peers are treated more as foils than love interests. In fact the characters all develop with far less emphasis on materialism and self-interest than they would in a more modern novel and this reader can’t help but think this is because the teenage mind is so much shallower now than it was back then; or perhaps this is just because that generation, was my generation.
This was my first reading of “The Game”, and I’m sure if I had of read it at the time of its release my opinion of it would be very different. The next book I intend to read and review is the 8th book of the series, “The Companion” written by Scott Siegal, which was one of my favorite boyhood reads; so my opinion on that one should be far more interesting.
Dr Richard Lawson