It’s been a while – sorry. I’ve been working on my personal writing and slacking off a bit.
And though I’m still working on the new A-Z editions they can be overwhelming so, I decided to take a break . I’ve knocked off my Dark Forces purchases one-two-three and decided to do a ya vs adult review on a similar theme – since they’re both 80’s I thought it would be fun and different.
Note the similarities in the covers alone ( scroll down for Smoke ) – both offer up images harkening to dark versions of Aladdin’s genie – only DF looks like his genie is straight out of the V! ( old 80’s t.v. miniseries )
Dark Forces are slim spooky reads , junior editions of Zebra Horror.
This one features heroine Dana frantic to get to school so she doesn’t miss the museum trip that she organized. Her parents left her a note and taxi fare but Dana whizzes off on her bike just in time to flag down one of the buses. However it’s the bus that’s packed , what to do?
Wait till hunky , newcomer Stephen offers her his seat that’s what and like the Prince Charming every girl hopes to meet he shows his true valor – he’s willing to sit on the john in back for the two hour trip. I love how the writer invokes some laughs early on –
When the teacher , angry at spotting Stephen standing before they’ve exited the bus, demands where is your seat? One helpful clown calls out he just flushed it!
The book quickly delves into it’s spook factor by hinting that Dana and the mummy Princess Hatabon seen on the museum tour are one and the same. She has some eerie visions caused from light reflecting off a gold necklace that quickly morphs into the crystal ball eyes of a spooky phantom giving her glimpses into her past life which needless to say didn’t end too well ,and she begins to worry history is about to repeat itself.
She goes the usual hysterical route – faints , sees a vision in the restaurant fountain and runs like the blazes down the street like a spooked horse. But before she reaches the coast ( any coast ) she stops and Stephen arrives ( having chased after her to see what’s wrong ). Naturally, she’s super-paranoid and makes a fool of herself. But his dual past is showing when he complains – “Don’t speak to me like that, I never liked that.” Hmmm , sounds like an uppity prince to me.
She manages to shake him loose and heads to her fathers office who sends her back home in a taxi.
Though this seems a tad flip , considering your daughter’s babbling that she’s going to be killed before her 17th birthday just like ole’ Princess Bonnyhat – err – Hatabon , he should’ve went with her. She’s kind of like Briar Rose, if she’d been clued in on her curse. The sight of even wagon wheel would’ve whipped her into a frenzy.
Unfortunately the book sags because Dana’s not a very good character. In fact she’s a hysterical twit. She’s weak when it’s needed – sobbing in daddy’s arms, terrified when it’s needed – running like she was on fire and snotty whenever it’s not needed ( but I suppose it’s supposed to be characterized as flirty – personally I found it obnoxious and wondered why Stephen didn’t just say – if we have to go through this again in our next life , I’ll kill you myself.
Although he does deserve some credit for telling her she has a difficult personality ( but it’s the understatement of the book. ) Should I cut her some slack , she is working under a deadline.
There is one well drawn eerie scene. After trapping Stephen into making a sketch of her nightmare man ( though harping all along that it wasn’t very good ) she goes to sleep with it on her night table and the sketch fills out , becoming the face which curls up on a wisp of smoke and turns into the demon-thing on the cover to torment her dreams intoning – Ammut, Devourer of the Dead has come to thee.
But rather than running to daddy whose down the hall , she’s calling up Stephen to rush right over. It’s a hoot how these teenage horror’s can go because had this been adults no need to clarify sudden departures – but in teenage-land there’s always mom and dad to answer to. And Stephen’s mother snaring him before he dashes out asks – you haven’t done anything have you? Exasperated he says Stop jumping to conclusions – why not go the full route – yeah mom , stop jumping to conclusions I’m only a reincarnated whosit that’s supposed to stop Dana whose really a reincarnated Egyptian Princess from being assassinated by some smoky lizard demon , but she’s not pregnant. He arrives and they kiss and crouch under some trees on the front lawn before deciding to just get the heck out of town. Yes , nothing like attempting to outrun a ghostly presence that doesn’t have to be bothered with pesky things like the cost of train tickets. Really , I might’ve believed the trip to New York if they had formulated some plan , but they’re just jumping from action scene to action scene. Once their they decide to contact a hypnotist over hot chocolate – hooboy. Naturally the session gets out of hand and the hypnotist is electrocuted by a light bulb , don’t ask. She doesn’t die , naturally but it’s enough to send our dynamic duo off and running. How they wind up at a history buff is beyond me , but he too is Dana’s reincarnated father! Who tells them to go look for an urn in the museum. I won’t go into any description about the overlong goony showdown in the museum – staged after hours , lets just say it was a bit of a predictable mess.
Not my favorite of the Dark Forces that I’ve read so far. But going in , I knew I wasn’t going to have too much hope of liking it – reincarnation is one of my least favorite themes. I guess I’m just not that into recycling!
* Instead of saying oh darn or fudge , Dana’s ‘curse’ when hearing a doorbell and assuming it’s a salesman is – Oh large rats and little mice – that’s right – I’m not sure if this is supposed to be some ancient Egyptian saying but it smacks of misplaced goofiness – especially when it really wasn’t followed up on , that she was now talking like her royal self.
Okay now for Ruby Jean Jensen’s SMOKE
If you’re a fan of Ruby Jean Jensen than you’re probably familiar with her style, if not here’s the rundown – She was an 80’s author of horror, usually published by Zebra horror, known on some websites as zero horror. I guess cause, by some standards the horror was too light-weight , but that all depends on whether they mean horror or gore. Ruby Jean didn’t produce a lot of gory scenes, but she managed to churn out some great, lightweight horror with plenty of creepy images. She wasn’t as solid as Stephen King but she had her own style – I loved her writing! More horrible than the gore factor was the fact that she gave the reader a batch of characters that were nice ( generally a family ) and no matter if they were six or sixty – there was no guarantee who made it to end.
( I’m still missing like five of her books – I think I’ll have to cave one of these days and order them online. )
Smoke so far isn’t one of my favorites ( but it’s not last on my list – Lost and Found has claimed that spot ) – the cover basically sums up the plot with the mental image of evil genie – but this genie doesn’t grant wishes.
The story starts with divorcee Blythe taking her kids – Beth , 12 , Joey , 8 and Ellen 7 out garage sale-ing , resentful over the fact that her ex-husband’s new wife is so generous to them. It’s little Ellen who believes she’s found Aladdin’s lamp at a garage sale and insists on buying it. The others tease her and urge her to rub it and prove them wrong – bring forth a genie. But when she rubs the lamp , it gets so hot , she screeches claiming it’s burned her hands. The kids are skeptical but Ellen, warily stashes the scary lamp in the back of her closet.
Later that night she is sleepwalking with the lamp in her hands and Blythe takes it from her setting it on the piano and walks Ellen back to bed. Caught up in her own dilemma about her ex-husband’s wife asking her to send the kids for the summer , she has a drink and a sneaked smoke and drifts off only to wake to smoke pouring from the lamps spout. Vague frightening figures form and Blythe notices Ellen has reappeared and tries to warn her to run.
The situation that follows is pure Ruby Jean – Ellen wakes up trying to forget a dream she had last night and becomes aware that her pajamas have a nasty reddish brown stain crusting them. Beth comes in , sees it and having found the body of their mother organizes a cover up. Ellen is to be washed and redressed , her bloody footprints are to scrubbed from the carpet before they call the cops. Even though her mother has been eviscerated , 12 year Beth still thinks her seven year old sister did it and isn’t buying her sister’s story about a monster. Even the cops know something suspicious is going on but believe the lie Beth concocts that an intruder must have come in and killed their mother , so they agree to release them to their father.
Now in most of these books , some hapless child would cling to a dire , toy , doll , trinket that had been causing all these problems so that the reader can shout – can’t you see that doll is evil. Get rid of the doll ( or genie lamp for that matter. ) But this time the genie lamp was left behind and the genie no longer needs it – he can appear leering like a fat sumo wrestler over Ellen at the motel pool to Beth’s horror or over their bed. He’s a free agent now.
The only trouble with this is now ,that you’ve created your misty villain , how in the heck do you destroy him what’s his weakness? Why does he appear?
Well, all those questions sort of will be answered for now the kids are off to meet their new mom , young and pregnant Faye – who has taken over partially as the heroine. Ruby Jean loves to weave in some actual normal dilemma’s in her madness – see during the shift as Faye is talking with her nosy but nice neighbor Nordene who heard the kids might’ve been involved in their mother’s death. So the situation already dicey – a young pregnant stepmother is suddenly saddled with her husband’s three kids from a previous marriage must also battle the rumors to her safety. There’s a good deal of time dedicated to Faye trying to win over the kids and not knowing how, basically she treats them like guests and keeps them entertained. Meanwhile , the reader understands what draws the genie in for the kill – give you a clue – it’s in the title. Smoke , yes that’s it.
If you’re a smoker , you might scowl over the obvious anti-smoking propaganda in this novel. It’s about as subtle as the cover.
Anyone who lights up gets it.
First there’s the maid whose hired to do laundry. ( Faye is stuck with the kids while , dear old dad , works in the city – gone for most of the deaths , action …but he returns just in time for some consequences ) She lights up a doobie and is bumped off while the kids are on a picnic. Thank God , because they now have a solid alibi. Though there is an absurd attempt to still keep them suspect even though the cops admit Blythe and the maid were raped – but seemingly with an object – which still is supposed to throw doubt into Faye’s mind concerning seven year old Ellen. That’s rather tasteless especially considering Ellen is a nice , innocent little girl and not some snarky , precocious brat.
The genie begins to change form tormenting the neighborhood as some vile feral cat – this is never really explained. It’s merely to add an odd frightening touch because Ruby Jean has limited her genie merely to a hovering bubble who leers over Ellen but never seems to be able to kill her. I guess cause she doesn’t smoke. Nordene , the neighbor however succumbs to lighting up after a tense day , after having left her kids with Faye. She is later found dead. Now the kids look like major jinxes. And Beth worried for Faye and her unborn baby runs off with her siblings into the mountain. Hoping to escape the evil that follows them in the form of the taunting cat. Joey who seems to be totally oblivious to what’s going on , only wants to go home and doesn’t exactly admire Beth’s mindless runaway scheme – who would when she doesn’t even have enough change for chocolate bars. He sneaks off , after their trip to an out of the way mountain store to call Faye to come get them.
Faye having been out of her mind with worry suddenly realizes she loves the kids like her own , and the kids realize they love her. Time to throw in the monkey wrench.
Gavin finally comes home and suggests a trip back to their cabin but a drive down a misty road ends in disaster when their car flips due to a spooky figure standing in the road. Damn , those ghosts.
Beth leads the children through the fog and everyone but Gavin survives. I say he had it coming leaving Faye stuck at home with a murderous genie on the loose , but maybe I’m too hard on him , he had wondered why she didn’t call him home. Faye is stuck in a hospital bed cause everyone’s worried about the baby and her sister is urging her to let the kids go , they’re not really yours.
Faye reluctantly allows her sister to stick them in a boarding school.
A boarding school the selfish sister didn’t even bother to investigate , she’s too busy trying to get home to visit her family , having done her duty without showing an ounce of sympathy to the orphans!
Naturally someone lights up in the boarding school and a child is murdered bringing Faye out of her fog. What was she thinking?! I would’ve left the jinxes there but she goes and picks them up and though the school’s psychiatrist believes Ellen needs some sort of divine help – that there’s definitely a demonic force after her – what does pregnant Faye do?
She heads the clan back to get Aladdin’s lamp.
Well – do you want to hear what happens?
It all stems from a flashback as to how the ‘genie’ got locked in the lamp in the first place – the prologue starts with an evil, mammoth Asian emperor who also happens to be a child molester. He apparently has a harem of girl-slaves and while his new girl cowers in a corner , his old slave-child has had enough and takes a lamp, setting the curtain to his bedroom on fire. Well history basically repeats itself with Ellen sacrificing herself – leading the genie through a burning curtain back to where he belongs.
I didn’t get it – nor did I find the story that exciting or scary , it had some interesting moments , but the corny climax , and the fact that Ruby made an entity almost unstoppable leads to this kind of uneven solution. But it was different, considering I expected the usual be careful what you wish scenario.