Yeah, I’m back. Apologies to my tens of fans, but :
- My client got ABSOLUTELY hosed in Court on Monday, and I was so upset that I couldn’t get it together to do an entry. I kept having to remind myself that jumping up and yelling “But Judge, you’re just WRONG.” wouldn’t have helped.
- On Tuesday I was watching the Australian team draw 1-1 with Japan in a vital World Cup qualifier.
So – Fire on the Water. I have thoughts!
As I’ve mentioned earlier, this was the first Lone Wolf book I ever bought, and I can still remember that the first time I played it I died on the carriage to Port Bax because I didn’t have enough Gold Crowns for the ticket, stowed away on the coach, and got murdered in the night while sleeping in a barn.
(The 2nd through to about 10th attempt I got killed because I didn’t have the dratted Magic Spear and got killed by the Helghast).
There is a real difference in the construction of the first two Lone Wolf books. Flight From the Dark is geared around there being many, many possible routes to take to the capital. This makes for a tremendous level of replayability, as each option is explored, but means that the actual (successful) journey from the Monastery to Holmgard can be quite short (in playing time).
By contrast, Fire on the Water truly feels like an epic journey, although one where there aren’t a massive amount of different options as to which path to take. Sure, you can take different choices in such places as Ragadorn and on the path through the Durenese forest, but Lone Wolf generally hits the same story beats every time – the initial ship, the shipwreck, the coach journey, the Tarnalin etc etc. Once you know that it is best to pick Animal Kinship as a skill, and are careful to avoid getting killed on the coach ride, the adventure isn’t actually that hard, with only a modest number of combats.
I’m never fond of the instances where Joe Dever, seemingly for laughs, puts in a 10% chance of instant death. This happens on the ship (when the mast can land ON YOUR FACE) and also when escaping the Helghast with Rhygar. While, I suppose reflecting the vagaries of life (death?) in something which is meant to represent a ‘game’ it achieves nothing more for the honest player than a frustrating return to the beginning.
I mentioned this in passing in the comments section, but Dever really makes it pretty clear that this series is aimed at males. Over the 700 sections in the two books so far, I don’t think that a single female character has made a meaningful appearance. Viveka is given a much bigger role in the novel adaptations, but I don’t think she even gets a line in the original gamebook. The Way of the Tiger series was much better at meaningful roles for both genders, with Gwyneth, Cassandra and Foxglove being considered real fan favourites.
I suppose I am treating the strengths of the book as being so self-evident that I’m not giving them enough mention. The story is gripping, the ‘road trip’ with the whodunnit is one of the most memorable sequences in gamebooks, the stakes are high and the conclusion is epic.
Let’s put it this way – after reading this book first, I went on to buy another 13 of them!