Rating: ★★★★☆ (4/5)

Genre: YA Paranormal Romance

Available On: Amazon (I’ve linked to the reprint omnibus of the series here, my copies are the original Point Horrors, which you can still get second hand if you want that nostalgic feel!)

The Hunter by L.J. Smith is a mesmerising and passionate introduction to a world where love and danger intertwine. A dark fantasy novel that takes readers on an enchanting journey where romance blooms amidst the shadows, captivating their hearts and leaving them yearning for more. This is a personal favourite of mine, kickstarting The Forbidden Game series, which was my first experience of a paranormal romance as a young teen. I’m quite nostalgic for it as a result, but even on re-reading as an adult it’s a cracking read.

At the core of the story is Jenny Thornton, a young woman whose life takes an unexpected turn when she stumbles upon the enigmatic Julian and his mysterious antique store. Instantly drawn to Julian’s charisma and magnetic presence, Jenny finds herself embroiled in a treacherous game that tests the limits of her courage and love. As Jenny and her friends become trapped within the game, the stakes grow higher, and their lives are endangered by the malevolent forces lurking in the shadows.

L.J. Smith’s writing effortlessly weaves together the elements of romance and suspense, creating a spellbinding atmosphere that transports readers into a world where love defies boundaries. Through intricate descriptions of Jenny’s emotions, readers experience the intensity of her feelings as they intertwine with the growing danger surrounding her. Smith’s talent lies in capturing the essence of a budding romance amidst the darkness, igniting a passionate flame that burns brightly even in the face of adversity.

The Original (For Me At Least) Forbidden Romance

Jenny emerges as a relatable and resilient protagonist, driven not only by her love for her friends but also by her growing affection for Julian. Her journey through the game is not merely a battle for survival but also a path of self-discovery and empowerment. As she confronts her deepest fears and faces the challenges laid out by Julian, Jenny discovers her own strength and the transformative power of love.

The forbidden romance between Jenny and Julian is the beating heart of the novel, adding an element of tension and vulnerability that heightens the emotional stakes. I was about 12 when I read these I think and it was the first time I’d encountered this trope. Needless to say I loved it (honestly most of the tropes in the book). Julian, with his enigmatic nature and irresistible charm, draws readers into his magnetic presence, making it impossible not to be captivated by him. Their connection sparks an electric chemistry that leaps off the pages, enveloping readers in a whirlwind of emotions.

Themes And Storytelling

Within the tapestry of supernatural elements and heart-pounding suspense, The Hunter showcases the resilience and power of love to overcome even the most sinister of forces. It delves into the depths of emotions, exploring the complexities of relationships and the sacrifices made in the name of love. As Jenny and Julian navigate the treacherous game, their forbidden love becomes a beacon of hope in the darkest of times, reminding readers that love can be a source of strength and solace in the face of darkness.

While this instalment sets the foundation for the series, it also leaves readers yearning for more answers and further exploration of the characters’ relationships. The ending strikes a delicate balance between resolution and anticipation, leaving readers eagerly anticipating the next instalment, hungry for more of the enchanting romance and the dangerous world that Smith has masterfully crafted.

The Hunter is an enchanting and captivating first book in a series that weaves together romance and suspense in the most bewitching way. L.J. Smith’s masterful storytelling and the magnetic allure of the forbidden love within its pages make this book a must-read for fans of romantic dark fantasy. Prepare to be enthralled by a tale that will keep you spellbound until the very last page, leaving you longing for more of Jenny and Julian’s captivating journey into the heart of darkness.

L.J. Smith not only captures the essence of an intense and forbidden romance but also delves deeper into the complexities of the supernatural game. As Jenny and Julian navigate the treacherous landscape of the game, their bond grows stronger, drawing them closer together amidst the lurking dangers.

Smith skillfully explores the inner conflicts and struggles faced by Jenny as she grapples with her growing feelings for Julian. Jenny finds herself torn between the allure of the forbidden and the desire to protect her friends. Her heart aches with both fear and longing, as she questions the trust she places in Julian and wonders if their love can withstand the darkness that surrounds them.

Julian, on the other hand, reveals more layers of his enigmatic persona as the story unfolds. His charm and charisma mask a tortured soul, and readers are given glimpses of the depths of his pain and his own battle against the darkness that threatens to consume him. The complex dynamic between Jenny and Julian adds depth to their relationship, making their love story all the more captivating and emotionally charged.

Supernatural Finesse

The Hunter not only explores the romantic aspect of the story but also delves into the supernatural elements with great finesse. Smith’s vivid descriptions bring the game to life, immersing readers in a world where nightmares become reality and the line between fantasy and truth blurs. The sinister challenges and malevolent adversaries that Jenny and her friends encounter heighten the suspense and keep readers on the edge of their seats.

As the narrative progresses, Jenny’s loyalty and determination to protect those she cares about are tested time and again. The love she shares with Julian becomes a beacon of hope, driving her forward and empowering her to face the darkest corners of the game. Their love not only serves as a source of strength but also acts as a catalyst for personal growth and transformation.

The Hunter is a page-turner, filled with gripping moments of danger, heart-pounding action, and a love that defies all odds. It seamlessly weaves together elements of romance, suspense, and supernatural intrigue, offering readers a captivating and immersive reading experience.

Smith’s writing style is evocative, with lyrical prose that paints vivid imagery and elicits a range of emotions. The story’s pacing is well-balanced, allowing for moments of introspection and character development, as well as thrilling sequences that keep readers hooked from start to finish.

It’s an enthralling start to a series that masterfully blends romance, suspense, and supernatural elements. L.J. Smith’s storytelling prowess shines as she delves deeper into the forbidden romance between Jenny and Julian, creating a narrative that captivates the heart and sparks the imagination. This book is a must-read for fans of dark fantasy, offering a compelling journey into a world where love battles against the forces of darkness.

How Spicy Is The Hunter?

Spice Rating: 🌶️

The book primarily explores elements of romance, suspense, and supernatural intrigue. While the story contains moments of intense emotional connection and attraction between characters, it maintains a level of appropriateness for its intended audience, typically young adult readers. The romance in the book is portrayed within the context of the larger narrative and is not overly explicit or explicit. It’s a mild spice.

Romance Trope Count

Trope Count: 💚💚💚💚💚💚💚

Several romance tropes add depth and complexity to the story, intertwining with the supernatural elements and suspenseful plot. These tropes contribute to the romantic relationships and emotional dynamics among the characters. Here are some of the key romance tropes present in the book:

Enemies To Lovers

The enemies to lovers trope is a significant element in the romantic subplot. Jenny, the protagonist, finds herself drawn to Julian, the enigmatic and dangerous game master. Despite initially being adversaries, their connection deepens as they navigate the treacherous game together, leading to a complex and intense relationship. This series was my first encounter with enemies to lovers and, while I didn’t realise it until I was older, I fell in love with the trope and have swooned over it ever since.

Forbidden Love

The forbidden love trope is present as Jenny and Julian’s relationship is fraught with obstacles and danger. Julian is a mysterious and potentially malevolent force, and their romantic connection defies the rules and expectations of the game. The forbidden nature of their love adds an element of risk and forbidden desire.

Rescue Me

A form of the rescue romance trope emerges as Julian becomes Jenny’s protector throughout the game. He saves her from perilous situations and offers support, fostering a bond that grows beyond mere attraction. This dynamic creates a sense of intimacy and reliance between the characters.

Love Triangle

While not as prominent as other tropes, “The Forbidden Game: The Hunter” hints at a love triangle. Jenny’s longtime friend and love interest, Tom, becomes entangled in the game as well, adding a layer of tension and conflict to the romantic dynamics. The love triangle trope introduces uncertainty and complicates the choices faced by the characters.


The soulmates trope is subtly present in the connection between Jenny and Julian. As they navigate the dangerous game and face their deepest fears together, their bond transcends the ordinary. There is a sense of destiny and an unbreakable connection that suggests they are meant to be together, even amidst the challenges and obstacles they face.


The redemption trope is explored through Julian’s character arc. Initially presented as a dark and mysterious antagonist, Julian’s involvement with Jenny and the game offers him a chance at redemption. Through his interactions with Jenny and his willingness to protect her and her friends, Julian begins to question his own nature and motives. This redemption arc adds depth to his character and provides a complex and emotional aspect to the romance.

Love Conquers All

The love conquers all trope is a prevailing theme in the story. Despite the challenges, dangers, and supernatural elements they face, the power of love serves as a driving force for the characters. It provides them with the strength to confront their fears, overcome obstacles, and persevere through the game. The belief that love can triumph over darkness and adversity is a central element in the romantic undertones of the narrative.

These romance tropes enrich the character relationships in the book, adding layers of emotion, conflict, and intensity to the overall narrative. They provide additional dimensions to the story beyond the supernatural elements, creating a blend of romance, suspense, and supernatural intrigue.

What Genre Is The Hunter?

The novel is primarily young adult fiction. It combines elements of dark fantasy, supernatural fiction, romance, and suspense. The book offers a thrilling and suspenseful narrative that is tailored to a teenage audience, exploring themes of love, danger, and self-discovery. The blend of supernatural elements, romance, and a gripping storyline makes it an engaging read for fans of various genres, particularly those who enjoy young adult fiction with a touch of the supernatural and romance.

Want more? Check out my review of book two in The Forbidden Game series, The Chase