Castle Death

Castle Death – Conclusion

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Okay – this is how this conclusion is going to work – I’m going to spend some time discussing the book as a gamebook, and then there’s going to be a brief essay summarising my personal opinion on some of the authorial choices employed by Joe Dever.

First, the writing – story, the atmosphere and so forth.

I don’t know if the practical reality of the mission ‘background’ was really thought through.  The idea of an isolated enemy fortress being penetrated by a single hero is a classic one, which dates back all the way to the very first gamebook of them all.  However, there is a bit of a difference between a mysterious mountain (or valley, forest etc) and an island where it is specifically stated that a magical fortress prevents ANYTHING getting through.  How the heck would that work?  Food, supplies, pay television?

Even some flavour dialogue about how “No-one knows how Zahda has been able to survive with his minions for so long behind the barrier, and this is another of the mysteries which you will need to solve” would have been appreciated.

If you can, in fact, successfully suspend your disbelief, Kazan-Oud is a well-constructed and suspenseful ride.  The (comparatively) complete lack of knowledge regarding your possible adversaries once inside the fortress makes the collection of information a key objective, where the only other alternative is ‘trial by error’ (where by ‘error’ I mean ‘dying horribly’).

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Many of the encounters take on a real ‘haunted house’ flavour, where they drip with atmosphere and puzzles to be solved, rather than simply confronting Lone Wolf with an escalating series of statistically difficult fights.

Although there are a number of ‘choke’ points that cannot be avoided, there are a refreshing number of possible paths to be taken through the adventure, giving replayability rather than a simple slog after each death back to the place where Lone Wolf last ‘died’.

Images such as the deserted beach, the Lovecraft-esque monsters, the arena and the various illusions and traps are described atmospherically and with well-constructed prose.

In terms of ‘gamebook’ construction, the degree of difficulty is dead (heh) on the money.  There are a number of insta-deaths, but on my playthroughs it would be fair to say that the majority of them can be avoided by a combination of information available during the adventure and good judgement.

Some of the unavoidable pitfalls are curiously constructed.  The compulsory loss of Weapons certainly serves to make things difficult, and the distinct possibility of not regaining such consequential items as the Sommerswerd appears to be dealt with fairly cavalierly.

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From a story telling perspective, it also appears odd that you would be stripped of your ‘Weapons’, but not such items as armour, shield, diamonds (!) and so forth.  An in-game explanation for this would have been nice.

The compulsory loss of Backpack at the end of the adventure appears decidedly odd.  Happening, as it does, only 1-2 paragraphs before reaching the end, it has a modest (at most) impact upon Lone Wolf’s chance of success at this book.  It rather seems like a naked attempt to strip Lone Wolf (partially) ‘back to basics’ before the next adventure.

However, these are minor quibbles with a well-constructed, atmospheric, multi-pronged gamebook.  It reads well as a story, and has an appropriate level of challenge as a game.

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Alright.  Here comes the personal comment.

Language has power.  Lots of it.  The words we choose have a real impact, with the corresponding responsibility resting heavily on any writer.

Lack of awareness of the impact a particular set of words may have is not an excuse, only a reason.

Having said the above, I think Joe Dever made an error of judgement with regard to some of his choices in this book, along with the phrasing used in certain sections.

As concerns the overall structure, Castle Death falls fairly and squarely within the template of the ‘White Savior’ narrative, which has been an recurring feature in film, television and literature.  Wikipedia has a good summary here.

A narrative of this kind involves an oppressed group, inevitably of a different race (or species in science fiction) to the protagonist.  With the oppressed group unable to save themselves, the protagonist enters their ‘home’ territory and rescues (or liberates etc) them from their oppressors.  Frequently, the protagonist will through some effortless ‘natural ability’ prove himself (and its usually a him) better at an activity, tradition or sport which the oppressed race have practiced for their whole lives.  For examples of the latter, think Avatar, A Princess of Mars or The Last Samurai.

Take Castle Death.  The prisoners are a collective bunch of (literally) unnamed wretches. The only ‘named’ NPCs are fellow outsiders, trying to defeat the evil overlord.  There is no indication whatsoever of any inherent worth or ability possessed by the slaves collectively or individually.

The language used to mark the slaves, their appearance and behaviour clearly marks them as inferior in every way.  They do not meaningfully assist Lone Wolf, but rather are either indifferent or, following their ‘freedom’, actively harmful and destructive.

Think also of the descriptions used of the slaves – a ‘pitiful herd of gangling, black-skinned creatures’.  All of the descriptors beside ‘black-skinned’ are clear terms of condescension and disrespect.  The slaves are LITERALLY dehumanised by being dismissed as ‘creatures’.  The Latin term ejusdem generis is used legally to describe a situation where an adjective should be interpreted in the context of the adjectives surrounding it.  When ‘black-skinned’ is used in the middle of demeaning terms, it is a natural response for the reader to interpret ‘black-skinned’ as also being a term indicative of contempt.

I am not so arrogant as to think that I can possibly know Joe Dever’s state of mind when writing this book.  It is trite (and wrong) to ascribe every creator of a piece of art with a ‘white saviour’ narrative as a racist.

I do think that the structure of story, along with language used, was a mis-step, and notwithstanding my great respect and admiration for Mr Dever, I would be untrue to myself if I did not admit to disappointment.

Next – A Jungle!  Apparently filled with Horrors!

30 thoughts on “Castle Death – Conclusion

  1. “black skinned” …. Shades of the “White Australia Policy”. Wasn;t it a Labor Govt who brought that in and Menzies, a Liberal dismantled it? I may need a Fact check here.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. YES BUT it was brought in by the “regressive” Left. My parents would not have been allowed in the country under that policy because they were Maltese. The first immigrants to be turned back under that policy were from Malta. Just think Lefty, we never would have met if your comrades had their way. Thank God for free thinking capitalists and free marketeers.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I am a 1st generation Australian, my Dad is half Sicilian and half Maltese and my Maternal Grandfather was French!!! it is no wonder I am so confused.

        Liked by 2 people

      3. @lghr, I probably said this here before but:
        I’m born in Ireland, my dad was born in Scotland to Irish parents but his mother convinced herself she was Scottish. My mother was also born in Scotland to a Scottish father but an Icelandic mother who had a Danish mother. There’s also a Spanish Royal princess somewhere on my mothers mothers side. And you thought you were confused?

        After all that, I married a girl from the rural mountains of India who often says I’m just like her father.😯 Pity our son…

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Needless to say, family celebrations were chaotic with often 3 different languages being spoken. When I started school, i couldnt speak a word of English but was fluent in Maltese, Italian and French . Lucky the Irish knews Latin so we made do for the first 2 must have been hilarious to watch!!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. On the Australian education system I once knew a Irish lad who as a child spent several years in Australia and he could remember looking at the curriculum and asking his mother “Who in their right mind would want to learn Mandarin Chinese?” So he didn’t. Later he returned to Ireland, grew up, became a Jehovah’s Witness, met chinese people in Dublin (we has a growing student community at the time), realised English wasn’t reaching their heart so he learned … Mandarin Chinese and played a major role in setting up a Mandarin Chinese congregation. He later moved to Mainland China. He said he’d have had an easier time if he’d just learned Manderin when he was in Australia.

        You really never know when what the teachers are trying to tell you will come in use.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I think you really hit the nail on the head. Thankfully this was the only instance of Joe using “black-skinned” in this manner in any of his books so I think it is safe to chalk it up to a bad choice of words as opposed to racism. Your description of why it is so important to be cognizant of this when writing was very well said, however.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Gameplay:
    1 Food. Giant Industrial scale mushroom farms. 😉 Honestly few authors tackle this subject but they usually leave enough vagueness to get around it (they’re providing thrashy entertainment, not good housekeeping manuals). The two kings DID deal with this, Tolkein in ROK Book VI chapter 2 had Sam logically enough wonder how the troops were fed and then the author answered the question. Years later Robert Jordan makes the bad guys industrial scale supply lines an important plot point in The Last Battle.

    Icehenge (recommended for those who want their heads seriously wrecked) deals with the problem that even if you try to recycle ALL waste back into food production you still have loss which will eventually wipe you out. While I’d like to see a real nutritionists report on the matter the real world fact is that the Biosphere 2 experiments in the mid nineties (attempts to have fully self contained biosphere’s) were a disaster (great for research, lousy for survival prospects).

    So yeah, food is one of those matters on which you have to suspend disbelief.

    However the forceshield does provide an excuse for the complete lack of information for you regarding whats in the island. Honestly, despite playing the book many times theres still routes I never tried.

    I’d imagine you keep your armour and Special items because Zahda doesn’t want to waste time stripping you down, but a shield can be taken off you easily. One point is he doesn’t expect you to survive the maze so if you last a bit longer its more entertaining (if he just wanted to kill you he’d have killed you). I just took the loss of the backpack as part of the chaos of the collapse of the island, but I’ve a tendency to do that.

    As always a fair review of the gamebook.

    Personal Comment:
    I just want you to know there’s only two people in the world who would get me to read articles on “White Saviour” (the other is my co-worker trainee lawyer and makeup goddess who’s taken your side to prove me wrong before, seriously, anyone who likes amazing makeup, esp mascara, should google sarah5chuuu, advertisment over). I read the Wikipedia articles on it, the Kony2012 criticism and even Teju Cole (coiner of “White Saviour Industrial Complex”). Please take this as sincere praise.

    You clearly and specifically highlight the areas you’re unhappy with and WHY you feel that way (you’re a lawyer after all). Personally I’d say it would have been more wrong to hide your feelings and pretend everything was fine, you haven’t done that with lesser matters in the past so shouldn’t now either. I talked too much in the past on this which is why I need to acknowledge your comments and points now.

    Roll on the Horrible Jungle and maybe this time you’ll even drink Bor Brew? 😈

    P.s. LGHR, if you only read one bit of my grandiose verbiage, if you like amazing mascara jobs google sarah5chuuu, she comes in with a different style anytime she’s off in the morning but I only found her instagram page last week (two days later it disappeared but you can still see it on google, advertisment so over).

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Respectfully, there is no way on this earth that you can call Jordan a ‘king’ on par with Tolkien. Independently of my personal preferences, I would certainly, without even thinking put the following on pedestals far above him (in the realm of greatness and influence in fantasy fiction) : Robert E. Howard, Michael Moorcock, Fritz Leiber, Neil Gaiman, Ursula Le Guin and Stephen Donaldson.

      1. Victoria and Boudicca were both Queens of England … there the resemblance ends.

        With personal preferences, not to mention variations in taste as time goes by, I would NEVER challenge your listed preferences and also must acknowledge that thats a great list you give (and I would add ones like L. Sprague De Camp, have you ever read his Lest Darkness Falls? That work alone had a massive influence). However my comments were in relation to both authors acknowledging the importance of supply lines and giving logical(ish) coherent explanations for them which many authors would not.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. My favourite comment in a fantasy novel about supply lines was in Book 4 (I think) of the Belgariad by David Eddings, when either King Rhodar or King Fulrach said “Any fool can raise an army, but you run into trouble around suppertime.”

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Oh yes! ☺ Still love the way Ce’nedra got her army with three gold coins.

        Also her complaining to Polgara about the way the General kept talking about “sanitation”.
        Polgara “Its very important in an army this size”
        Ce’Nedra “But its such a disgusting subject”.

        Yes, credit where its due, David Eddings, and others, also thought about the practicalities of large armies.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I want to learn Mandarin too. I have a Lawyer friend who is very fluent in Mandarin, I have to convince him to teach me. My14 year old daughter is fluent in Japanese, she has been learning it since she was 3 (her school is Internationally aligned with a sister school in Osaka) but now she wants to switch to Mandarin, because China has overtaken Japan as Australia’s largest trading partner.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. How many Lawyers do you know 😮😉

      When I say “Nee How Ma” I get surprised looks and they’ll reply “How” so I said Hello ok.
      When I say “Sung gan nee how ma” … well they see I’m holding some paper with Chinese writing on it so they understand I want to give them something and usually take it.
      But when I say “Shi Shi” noone EVER understands that I’m trying to say thank you (not even customers) proving, as if proof were needed, that I’m hopeless at languages (and my dad learned ancient languages for FUN)😕

      Importance of speaking to someone in the language of their heart was illustrated by one real life experience (from an Australian no less). He was in Tahiti and was talking to a lady fluent in Tahitan and French.

      Which do you prefer? I am good in both.
      Which do you think in? I think in both.
      Which do you dream in? I dream in both.
      Which do you speak when you’re mad at your husband? Tahitan.

      Being multilingual is great but we all have a language of our heart

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I have spent the last 15 years of my working life , working with and for Commercial Lawyers, in the areas of Workplace Health & Safety. I have just started a JV with Lawyers who have invented a Bullying App and my other friend (who is a lawyer) has invented an App for Expos and Trade Shows, I work for him too. I like lawyers, they are highly intelligent ( our Author included). My daughter has started swearing loudly in Chinese lately when she gets upset, it sounds so funny. She does it in the supermarket and I lose it.

        Liked by 2 people

  5. Castle Death was by far my least favourite book so far. It’s confusing and one gets the feeling that the setting was not developed at all – few rooms gave a purpose and enemies offer no interaction, so that a player feels very much in a random generated dungeon, where any choice is as good as another. Roll for encounters, roll for traps, that’s it. In the end we do not even find out what Zahda was and what happened to his fellow evil hooded friends. Huge disappointment.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Castle Death is my least loved LW book, but it was also the first of the series I read. I was very irritated as a child not to have the Sommerswerd (or the Glaive de Sommer as it’s called in French) and i pestered my parents to buy me Fire over Water ASAP, which hooked me on the series.

    It felt very “Fighting Fantasy” like and it was probably one of the worst possible introduction to Magnamund, but I liked it at the time,

    Liked by 1 person

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