fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsfantasy book reviews L.J. Smith Dark VisionsDark Visions by L.J. Smith

“If You’ve Got Darkness in Your Nature, You Might as Well Enjoy It…”

One of the beneficial side effects of the sudden surge in paranormal teen romance is that Lisa Jane Smith’s novels have been republished. They were essential reading material in my adolescence and getting the chance to reread them in my twenty-something-hood has been lots of fun. Supernatural creatures, love triangles, empowered heroines, a solid story, and clear narrative with just a hint of purple prose are the staple ingredients in any L.J. Smith trilogy.

Kaitlyn Fairchild is isolated and ostracized in her small town, considered a witch by her peers and plenty of adults too due to her ability to draw precognitive visions. She can never find a way of preventing her dark visions from coming true, leading to circulating rumors that she not only sees the future, but is responsible for it too. A life-line comes in the form of admission to the Zetes Institute after a viewing test confirms her physic powers.

The administrator Joyce Piper promises that the research will grant her control over her powers, as well as a college scholarship for the future, and Kaitlyn accepts. At the Zetes Institute she is joined by four other young teenage psychics with different powers, with the added complication of one having been recently released from juvenile prison. Despite this, Kaitlyn finds herself at home and accepted amongst her fellow psychics: Rob Kessler (a healer), Lewis Chao (psychokinetic), Anna Whiteraven (communicates to animals) and Gabriel Wolfe (a telepath; and yes, that’s really his name), whose powers can be fatally harmful to other people.

But soon it becomes clear to Kait that things aren’t all they seem at the Institute, particularly not with Mr. Zetes. An assistant whispers ominous warnings, there are rumours of past experiments that ended badly for the subjects, and Kaitlyn herself draws several cautionary pictures.

This particular story (like most of L.J. Smith’s works) is divided into three parts, having been originally published separately as The Strange Power, The Possessed and The Passion. The best part about this republication is that the story is contained within one volume for the first time, negating the need to go hunting for three different books. A side-effect is that parts two and three contain “info-dumps” within the first few chapters that recount what’s been happening in the previous book, something that could have been fixed with a little editing in order to let the narrative flow more smoothly. However, the fact remains that this particular story works better as one complete publication, with The Strange Power dealing with the young group of psychics adjusting to their powers and one another, The Possessed (which, oddly enough, involves no possession of any kind) chronicling their “fugitive field trip” in which they try to find answers and sanctuary in a mysterious house that’s been haunting their dreams, and finally The Passion involving Kaitlyn’s solo mission to infiltrate her previous home as a spy amidst a host of dark psychics.

Though this is not Smith’s best or most creative trilogy (in fact, if you’ve read her other works, it can feel quite formulaic) it still serves as a strong, interesting, diverting story of mystery, suspense, empowerment and choices, containing what feels like legitimate research on psychic phenomenon. Like all L.J. Smith’s heroines, Kaitlyn is drop-dead gorgeous, and even has “magical eyes,” (described as smoky blue with dark blue rings in them) but she also has a backbone and a sense of her own self-worth. Even better, she’s not a shrinking violet to either one of her love interests, and in her finest moment she tells one of them, who is trying to forcibly remove her from a situation: “I am not an object, something to be picked up or carried away or passed around!”

Wow — can you imagine Bella Swan saying this to Edward Cullen? I can’t.

Original trilogy:                                                                             Omnibus edition:
book review L.J. Smith Dark Visions The Strange Power; The Possessed; The Passionbook review L.J. Smith Dark Visions The Strange Power; The Possessed; The Passionbook review L.J. Smith Dark Visions The Strange Power; The Possessed; The Passion                fantasy book reviews L.J. Smith Dark Visions

Okay, I wasn’t going to bring in the inevitable TWILIGHT comparison, but my copy of this book had a small purple sticker on it that stated: “If you like Edward, you’ll love Gabriel.” So, since the publishers have deliberately opened themselves up for the contrast, how do these two series measure up against one another?

They are geared toward the same target audience with many of the same components, and so it’s safe to say that if TWILIGHT appeals to you, so will Smith’s canon of work (with the added advantage of better writing and faster pacing). Despite being first published in the 1990s, Smith’s work has aged well thanks to a lack of attention given to clothing trends and technology, giving it a slightly timeless context.

As supernatural romances go, both Stephenie Meyer and L.J. Smith have an interest in the “bad boy” persona. Gabriel, for the record, isn’t that much better than Edward as a suitor you’d want your adolescent daughter to be longing for. He acts like a jerk, has a criminal record, steals a car, makes sleazy remarks, betrays her trust, has casual sex with another girl (if there was another reason for why Laurie Frost exits his bedroom first thing in the morning, followed by a half-dressed, “satisfied” looking Gabriel, it’s never explained), physically prevents Kait from leaving a room, threatens her, and causes her deliberate psychic pain in the attempt to take something valuable from her (though she doesn’t feel resentment toward him because — you guessed it — he didn’t really mean it). Kaitlyn also has the choice of Rob Kessler as a potential boyfriend, and though nothing could ever top the amount of times Edward Cullen is likened to an angel, Smith comes pretty darn close with Rob.

But as a female protagonist, Kaitlyn is an eminently sympathetic and strong role model; moving from a moody and bitter teenage girl who longs to find her place in the world, to a strong and capable young woman who has mastered her abilities, she adheres to a strict moral code in a world that is filled with shades of grey and isn’t defined by what boy she’s dating.

There are some narrative problems: Mr Zetes makes for a rather cardboard cutout villain whose only motivation is monetary gain (though the name is quite clever: to get its full significance, consult a book of Greek mythology), and although Anna and Lewis have the most useful powers, they seldom get the chance to use them in creative ways.

But I am sincerely enjoying my trip down memory lane with the republication of my teenage years’ reading material, and I’ve been happily surprised to find that L.J. Smith’s books have more or less held up to my fond memories of them: hardly great literature, but a fun, rewarding read nonetheless.


  • Rebecca Fisher

    REBECCA FISHER, with us since January 2008, earned a Masters degree in literature at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. Her thesis included a comparison of how C.S. Lewis and Philip Pullman each use the idea of mankind’s Fall from Grace to structure the worldviews presented in their fantasy series. Rebecca is a firm believer that fantasy books written for children can be just as meaningful, well-written and enjoyable as those for adults, and in some cases, even more so. Rebecca lives in New Zealand. She is the winner of the 2015 Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best SFF Fan Writer.