Monday, September 7, 2009

Peril the First Review #1: The Strange Power by L.J. Smith

Kaitlyn Fairchild has never been accepted at her school. Her classmates find her witch-eyes and prophetic drawings unsettling. Kaitlyn dreams of friendship, of belonging, and one day she finds it--with other psychics like her at the Zetes Institute in California. After her isolation in Ohio, the institute seems like a dream come true: in exchange for a year of testing and training with her new friends, she will be given a very generous college scholarship. But not everything's as it seems at the institute: what happened to the group who underwent the pilot study, and what does Mr Zetes really have planned for them?

As I said in a previous post, for me, L.J. Smith CAN DO NO WRONG. I read most of her books back in 1999 when I was fourteen and adored them. OK, so Elena in The Vampire Diaries is totally more self-centred and shallow than I remember, and the writing is hardly Hemingway, but I was charmed all over again reading The Strange Power, first in the Dark Visions trilogy.

Like all of Smith's books, The Strange Power is a paranormal romance. But where The Vampire Diaries series is basically a romance with some blood-sucking thrown in, The Strange Power places emphasis on the paranormal aspects as well as the romantic stuff.

Like all Smith's heroines, Kaitlyn is bee-yootiful. She's also vulnerable, brave and a bit of a goody two-shoes, not liking to "snitch" or gossip, and falls in love laughably quickly--with Rob, the hot blond and muscular farm boy ... with brain damage. A hang gliding accident left no scars on his body or permanent damage except for one thing: he "doesn't know what girls are for", as it's politely put. Well, this isn't going to stand in Kaitlyn's way. She's one of America's top psychics, and pretty darn cute to boot. A pesky bit of brain damage isn't going to stand between her and true love! But then there's Gabriel, the youth offender who's been in jail for murdering two people and carries a switch-blade in his back pocket and is seemingly impervious to all emotion. Even though we can all tell he has higher feelings and probably didn't mean to kill those people/it was in self-defence/his father beat him as a child, he gets a handful of cameos as the narrator so we can watch him, hand to brow, wonder why Kaitlyn and her witch-eyes torment him so. There's no love lost between Rob and Gabriel, either. As with any good love triangle, they can't stand one another. As for the other two students, they're rather one dimensional but get their five minutes of fame within the narrative. Mr Zetes, the villain, is rather like a gentlemanly mad scientist, swirling brandy in a balloon glass as he outlines his evil plans. The institute has all these crazy contraptions for testing psychic abilities like metal cages impervious to radio waves and sensory deprivation tanks and something like what death row prisoners get electrocuted in, but with crystals. In this world ESP is observable and testable, and something you can study at university and papers are published about it. The characters can open doors and talk to each other with their minds and drain each other like psychic vampires.

There's no complexity to either the plot or the characters, but it doesn't matter--it works. The characters might be simplistic, but their actions and reactions are logical. The plot unfolds smoothly. And I think that's the charm with Smith's books: they're simple, but they make sense and they're thoroughly absorbing.

For those who know L.J. Smith's books well, you'll know about her tendency to wax lyrical about soulmates and cosmic connections and shafts of golden lights when two characters realise their love for each other. In the Nightworld books the realisation always seems to come when two characters' hands touch by accident and an electric shock passes through them that takes on epic proportions. In The Strange Power, the realisation moment is a doozy:

Kaitlyn felt it again, the universe around them hushed and waiting, enclosing the two of them. This time, though, there was a trembling joy to the hush, a certainty ... Everything being said between them, without spoken words or even words of the mind. It was simply as if their souls were mingling ...

I'm with you. I belong to you.

We were born for this.

She always thought that kissing ___ would be wonderful. But this wasn't like something physical at all. It was simply like falling endlessly into sunlight and gold.

That's what everyone's first kiss was like, right? I mean, I felt the universe, hushed around me. Didn't you?

If you're a L.J. Smith virgin, you could do worse than start yourself off with The Strange Power.

Various incarnations of the cover:

The old omnibus containing all three books in the Dark Visions trilogy.

The edition I read back in the day, which definitely has the creepiest cover.

The forthcoming omnibus edition, due out September 8. May I just say meh to all the new L.J. Smith covers in general. They are bland and vacant, especially for the Dark Visions trilogy and Nightworld series when compared to the originals:

Just look at this! Isn't it the most fabulously tacky thing you've ever seen? The KISS mask, the candlestick, the so-not-sixteen creepy looking vampire ... I think Huntress is probably my favourite of the Nightworld series.

"Don't you dare die on me Jezebel, or I'll follow you to the next world and KILL you!"

That's love.


  1. I am trying to write my review for this book tonight and here you go and post yours. I don't think I'll have mine done, I just can't seem to focus on review writing. Finished the book earlier in the week and I am STILL trying to write my review. Oops.

    I might be remembering wrong, but doesn't Kaitlin have RED hair? The girl on the cover has blonde.. also, the eyes are nothing like they say hers are! *tsk*

  2. Yes she doesn't look anything like the cover shows her to look. I look forward to reading your review, I hope you liked it!

  3. Great review, Rhiannon! I'm an L.J. Smith virgin but I would love to read her books! Just have so many other books planned to read as well LOL

  4. "they're simple, but they make sense and they're thoroughly absorbing."

    There are several authors that I feel the same way about and am always pleased with reading their books.

    Fun review. The cover takes me back...two decades it reminds me of my time working in a bookstore shelving Christopher Pike and R.L. Stine novels. Good memories.

  5. Glad to see another hardcore L.J. Smith fan online. I love how tacky the old book covers are, especially the KISS mask, et al.