Before I start on my thoughts regarding Shadow on the Sand, I will just mention that I have, as with my Way of the Tiger page, placed a PayPal donation button on the right-hand side of the home page of this playthrough. These posts will always remain available to all free of charge. However, for those who wish to make a voluntary contribution to express their enjoyment of this series, there is now a convenient way to do so.
I deliberately didn’t put the button up when I first started the page, because I wanted to have a body of work actually present before asking for any sort of acknowledgement from anyone.
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So – Shadow on the Sand.
Let’s be honest. There is a a LOT to be impressed by when it comes to this book. In terms of the world-building and writing, involving the creation of an entirely new country / capital, with its rulership, customs and geography, it is impressive.
Although certain cliches and shortcuts regarding so-called ‘Arab culture’ are utilised, it is notable that many different locations and environments are believably integrated into the one adventure. Even with only two attempts, my character :
- Swam through the harbour;
- Ran through the market of the capital;
- Held my nose as I stumbled (literally) through the sewers.
- Skulked through the palace, including towers, throne rooms, dungeons and gardens.
- Explored the desert, including oases, regional towns and forests.
- Rode on the back of a flying creature, including airborne battles.
- Finished with a (brief) old-style dungeon-crawl, complete with final boss.
Oh, and did I mention the FLYING SHIP??
The re-appearance of Banedon is a nice nod to continuity. However, I imagine that Joe Dever wishes he had constructed Flight From the Dark so as to make a meeting with Banedon more inevitable, given that it is very very possible to complete that entire (first) book without the (retrospectively) momentous meeting even taking place!
As I mentioned at the time, the fact that there is a ‘new sheriff in town’ was pretty clearly telegraphed near the start of the adventure. It may have added to the intrigue if the true nature of the new Zakhan was more of a mystery, with Lone Wolf having the (seemingly valid) option of accompanying the escort back to the palace, with the nature of the trap only becoming gradually apparent.
The possibility of catching ‘Limbdeath’ was a fascinating sub-quest within the early third of the adventure. Although the mechanism of ensuring that Lone Wolf caught the disease was clumsy and hamhanded (tripping over? really?), the effect of the disease was suitably ominous and fear-inducing. Also, I liked the mechanism whereby if you did endure the disease (and then found the cure) you were ‘rewarded’ with the extra dose of Oede which was useful for the rest of the adventure.
The breaking of the adventure into two ‘parts’ didn’t really seem to serve any practical purpose, apart from emphasising that every path through the adventure had to take you past the conversation between Kimah and Haakon, with the corresponding revelation regarding the Book of the Magnakai. I support it could be argued that paragraph 200 is where the adventure changes from a mere attempt to escape the Zakhan’s trap to a quest to recover the Book of the Magnakai. It is also certainly true that the extra 50 paragraphs to the book (400 rather than 350) was a welcome addition that added to the ‘epic feel’ of the adventure.
In terms of difficulty, this is an adventure where the possession of 9 Kai Disciplines (rather than 5) makes a massive difference. Until the final confrontation, there were no particularly difficult fights, but the ability to pass every Kai Discipline check (since Weaponskill was never called upon) certainly negated the effect of any possible missteps during the adventure.
In terms of faults, the book wasn’t always well-constructed. In particular, the logic around the escape from the palace into the guard tower was flawed, and was one of the example of the weakness in the gamebook format, as Lone Wolf was fairly unceremoniously shuffled in a particular direction, notwithstanding the clearly more appropriate choices which were obviously available to him.
I’ve mentioned the difficulty with the famous ‘map’ puzzle. Loyal reader Fenrir has pointed out that the solution to the “How many cities….” question was in fact contained in a posted notice briefly sighted by Lone Wolf if he followed one particular path early in the adventure. However, the directions for the puzzle could (in my opinion) have been improved with an exhortation to, say “Check the map, and also any other information which you may have gained on your adventure so far.” I have always considered that the book pretty explicitly leads you to believe that all necessary information to solve the puzzle is contained within the map.
Aside : How good is the above picture?? Expand to get a proper look.
In terms of combat difficulty, Joe Dever starts here to explicitly differentiate between adventurers who have the Sommerswerd and those who don’t. Incarnations of Lone Wolf who have the Sommerswerd have to make a couple of correct choices and win fights again Combat Skill 24 and 28 enemies in rapid succession. By contrast, non-Sommerswerd adventurers only have to defeat a Combat Skill 20 enemy before being able to ‘insta-kill’ Haakon. While I understand that Mr Dever didn’t want to make the book too easy for Sommerswerd wielders, it seems counter-productive to actually make it harder to complete the book with the Sommerswerd than without it.
Generally, this is a rightly beloved gamebook, and a fine capstone to the Kai ‘series’. The lack of an overall ‘arc’ for books 3-5 was slightly damaging, as I think the whole ‘get summoned from the Kai Monastery to help the King with a tasks suitable for no-one else’ thing gets a little old after a while.
Next : The Magnakai series, with some huge power-ups for Lone Wolf!