Books Illustrated by Les Edwards

Fighting Fantasy

9. Caverns of the Snow Witch
Author: Ian Livingstone
Illustrators: Les Edwards (both British covers), R. Courtney (American cover), Gary Ward and Edward Crosby (interior)
First Published: 1984 (British edition), May, 1985 (American edition)
Reissued: April, 2003 (as book #10)
ISBN: 0-14-031830-5 (original British edition), 0-440-91126-5 (American edition), 0-84046-432-1 (reissued British edition)
Length: 400 sections
Number of Endings: 24 instant failures, 1 victory, plus death by Stamina loss or bad Luck.
Plot Summary: A simple job involving the protection of a caravan eventually turns into an expedition into the icy passages of the evil Snow Witch....
Translations: Bulgarian, Danish, French, German, Hungarian, Japanese, Portuguese (Portugal), Spanish
My Thoughts:

After a bit of blessed relief, we're back into nasty territory again. This book is Ian Livingstone at his worst: a linear sequence of excessively difficult but not especially interesting encounters complete with a stupid, luck-based guessing game poorly disguised as a climactic battle. This sort of thing is growing extremely tiresome. A character with a Skill of less than 10 simply stands no chance (despite what the lousy lying introduction says), and since the book is a long sequence of tough fights followed by lots of random ways to die senselessly, reaching victory is not challenging, it's merely frustrating. Although the final few events of the book are fairly interesting, most of the story is so weak and dull that it does nothing to redeem the awful gameplay. We have the same orcs and dwarves we've seen before, the most original creature in sight is the Brain Slayer (a lame rip-off of D&D's Mind Flayer), and the Snow Witch herself doesn't really do anything to distinguish herself as a memorable villain.

Some of the book's problems are likely due to the fact that it is an expanded version of an adventure from Warlock magazine. In the original version, the reader kills the Snow Witch and it's all over. In the book, though, that's only the halfway point, and there are lots more irritating locations to die horribly in. Every time the book seems to be about finished, something new, unrelated and tedious seems to crop up. Even after the whole Snow Witch plot is over, you still have to suffer through lots and lots of random events and obstacles featuring mostly-gratuitous references to early entries in the series, eventually revealing this story to be a prequel to The Forest of Doom. This adventure wasn't anything special to begin with, and apart from a couple of nifty moments, this added material only makes it overstay its welcome further. I suppose it could be said that the book has more NPC interaction and a more epic scope than previous volumes, but for these features to be significant, they'd have to be well-executed. Since they don't manage to be all that interesting, only long and irritating, they barely seem worth mentioning. The only real improvement in the book over the magazine version is the new artwork, which has a quite appealing semi-woodcut-like look to it. Interesting stuff!

I've probably said it before, but it's worth saying again. A well-designed gamebook allows a reader to quickly retrace his or her steps up to the point of death upon each replay or at least try out some new things along the way. If, by the time a player has explored every possible path, he or she still ends up dying off consistently near the beginning of the story, something is obviously wrong, and the gamebook is clearly not going to be very much fun. This book suffers from this problem severely, and it's an unforgiveable flaw in my opinion. The only good that came of the whole mess was that I figured out a way of streamlining combat resolution: roll two different-colored pairs of dice at once and see which pair rolls higher; it's faster than rolling one pair twice and is easier on the memory. Not especially clever, I admit, but helpful nonetheless.... In any case, even this accelerated combat wasn't enough to help me win -- eventually I resorted to designating computer-RPG-inspired "save points" so that I wouldn't have to struggle through the early stages of the book over and over. Yeah, it's technically cheating, but my conscience is mostly clear.

Which Way Books

 21. Ten-Ton Monster
Author: Nancy Lamb (credited as R. G. Austin)
Illustrator: Les Edwards (cover), Joseph A. Smith (interior)
First Published: December, 1985
ISBN: 0-671-55820-X
Length: 117 pages
Number of Endings: 38
Plot Summary: In order to become the Grand Master of your planet, you have to complete three dangerous missions: kill a huge monster, defeat an infamous criminal, and destroy a magic crystal.
My Thoughts: This Which Way book is quite good; it has three distinct missions, but in order to be completely victorious you have to finish all three missions. This makes it more coherent than most books in the series, yet still retains the variety that makes the series interesting. This is also the first Which Way book to use the third and final cover design, which uses a new logo, a larger cover illustration, and a bright background color.

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