This is one of those books I have been very eager to read for a while now, and now that it is done, I can finally comment on it. Let’s say the hype factor was high, what with reading positive reviews left and right (most of them right here on this forum) and seeing the book win number 1 spot in the best Fighting Fantasy Gamebook of all time poll published in the very good Fighting Fantazine. Could the final product survive this kind of hype though?
I’m a horror fan. Early on in my teens, or perhaps even my tweens, I started finding horror stories good instead of just frightening, and it never did quite let go, even though I daresay my palette has seen significant expansion since then. So the topic of the book was a right winner by me from the get go. A good sign. Then seeing that wonderful cover by Maestro McKenna was another good point in its favour. Inside illos, also by McKenna, kept bringing the goods and I savoured every one of them. Some of the illos are amongst his best work, of which there is plenty, granted.
Storywise brings even more goodness but also some slight flaws, really just about the only flaws in this book, a surprise for sure, but when I said slight I meant it. Nothing that should ruin the experience for anyone, I believe.
First the good. Epic. If there’s one word to describe this story, it would be this. Well, it’s not as epic as, say, the Sorcery! series, but then again, those were four big books continuing one storyline, but when we’re talking solo gamebooks, there’s only a few out there that would qualify as epic. I would say overall Jon Green tends to write epic stories but maybe epic is too easy an epithet? (now that I think about it I find there’s quite a few stories actually that I would consider epic, so maybe I’m easily impressed) I do not wish to diminish the word though, so, perhaps in this case, massive would be a better word - what with over 500 sections! - but I still would say Green writes epics even though the fate of the world isn’t always at stake. After all, a character’s personal journey can also be considered epic, even if it doesn’t involve destroying the one true ring every time. The protagonist in HotW is thrust into an epic story unwillingly, but it remains epic just the same.
But let’s move on now that I’ve managed to write epic 200 times. I find brilliant the way this melting pot of ideas is thrown together without making a mess of the kitchen. The choices offered are multiple, the feeling of freedom as you roam around undeniable, as you never feel railroaded toward a particular point. It all flows fluidly, taken forward by a robust system that offers touches that adds realistic flavours to the overall experience, mainly the change system and the powers or curses it can bestow.
I was just saying how fluid it all is, well… almost. There’s gotta be something to improve, right? Obviously Mr Green is busting at the seams with imagination (he really lets loose here) and had in mind lots of horror set pieces he wanted to throw into the mix and have some fun with. It feels as if he wanted to create the ultimate FF and crammed the book with as much stuff as he could fit in, afraid perhaps (with reason) that it would be his last chance to do so. Most are thematically linked to werebeast in general and are just right for this book and your character’s journey, yet lots of them feels disconnected from the whole all the same, seemingly having been forced into the main storyline instead of flowing naturally from it. These occurrences are little bumps in the road, no more, and are small nuisances at best, but without ruining the overall excellence of the book. You feel them here and there in the writing, the lack of a smooth transition between two sections, most likely, but you soon let go of them as you are conquered by the great descriptions and loads of fun and creepy encounters.
Plus did I mentioned I thought it was epic? The story builds up and up until the last moment, while being satisfying every steps of the way. Hard to ask for more under such circumstances. Plus, you can relive this story with many different adventures, what with such a multitude of paths being available and a certain fairness that allows you to win without having the usual required shopping list. Indeed, while codewords are a-many here again, items are fewer, and usually not required to win.
In fact, when I reach the end and won (cheating with fights, though) I was nearly sad I didn’t get to reach a dead-end due to my having missed a few important items (quite a few actually). I so wanted to wander the left-over paths and see what I had missed. But it will be for another time, and I will have a great time doing it.
* Five years? Has half a decade really already passed since I wrote what (at the time) I feared might be my last FF gamebook ever?