Mike Symonds, under his nom de plume of ‘Film Crit Hulk’, has written a very (VERY) long disssertation of the James Bond series. Here’s the link to part 1, if you’re interested.
Despite the annoying gimmick of the whole piece bring written in captial letters, he makes many interesting and valid points regarding the series as a whole, along with each individual movie.
What does this have to do with Lone Wolf? One of Symonds’ central premises is that each Bond movie is an overreaction to the perceived faults with the previous one. For example, the ridiculous Moonraker was followed by the (comparatively) gritty For Your Eyes Only.
I consider that this premise can be equally applied to the relationship between Prisoners of Time and The Masters of Darkness.
Where Prisoners of Time railroaded Lone Wolf to an alarming degree, Darkness allowed numerous ways to reach your goal (notwithstanding the final shove into the fateful tunnel). Where Time had several unavoidably difficult battles, Darkness allowed almost every battle of any difficulty to be avoided through a mixture of good choices, possession of Disciplines and handy plot tokens.
In circumstances where Time had pages upon pages of wearying exposition, Darkness kept such material on the margins, with the reader left to draw his or her own conclusions regarding the background to the ironclads, the various Darklords, the Slavemaster and so forth.
Does that mean that The Masters of Darkness is a perfect gamebook?
By no means. But it would be foolish to ignore what appears to be a genuine attempt to correct the authorial misjudgements in The Prisoners of Time that had received (deserved) criticism.
Another point of improvement (as opposed to other recent books in the series) was in the handling of the Sommerswerd. We are all familiar with how, in books 9 and 11 in particular, possession of this weapon was literally a disadvantage, due to Mr Dever’s attempts to ‘even up’ the adventure. Rather than simply saying the Sommerswerd could not be used at certain points, the book would, upon confirmation that the reader had the Sommerswerd, use highly artificial means to increase enemy abilities to an absurd degree.
By contrast, book 12, after some initial easy battles, requires the reader to keep the Sommerswerd in its sheath, on (literally) pain of death. This simple yet elegant tactic places most readers on common ground. However, the Sommerswerd, if used correctly and bravely in the final battle, gives the satisfaction of an instakill of the Big Bad.
Given the vague sense of anticlimax which then results at the end of the adventure, it may have been preferable for Lone Wolf to also have to obtain some other item or piece of knowledge in order to unleash the power of the Sommerswerd against Gnaag. Perhaps some kind of ‘Sun Jewel’, which could be described as necessary to allow the Sommerswerd to be used inside? This would have also resolved the (minor) continuity glitch involving a comparison with Book 5, where Lone Wolf can’t use a blast from the Sommerswerd because both he and Haakon are underground at the time of their confrontation.
On a more general level, the difficulty level in Book 12 appeared (although your writer may have just been lucky) to be well and truly placed on an easier setting than the last couple of books. There were no instakills resulting from intuitively correct choices, no impossible unavoidable battles, and the path to victory was (comparatively) straightforward.
Also, the quality of the descriptive writing shouldn’t be ignored. The journey into the Darklands was evocatively crafted, with a clear sense of the deterioration of the land and surroundings as Lone Wolf grew closer to his goal. Although clearly inspired by creations such as Tolkein’s Mordor, the sense of Lone Wolf’s isolation and wariness was skilfully depicted by the written word. Many of the illustrations were also at their usual high standard.
Overall, an impressive achievement, and a worthy capstone to a memorable Magnakai series.
So – how would I rank the Magnakai series? Overall, excellent. If I absolutely HAD to list an order of preference, it would be as follows (least good to best) :
The Prisoners of Time
The Cauldron of Fear
The Jungle of Horrors
The Kingdoms of Terror
The Masters of Darkness
The Dungeons of Torgar.
Two final announcements :
- I haven’t thanked a number of donors to the June fundraiser as I only have their real names (from PayPal receipts), which I am reluctant to use without permission. If you are a donor who hasn’t been acknowledged, please use the ‘Contact’ tab to indicate your preference in this regard.
- I have significant professional obligations over the next 3-4 months. Although this blog is by no means going away, I must warn in advance that my current posting rate of every second day may not be able to be maintained.