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Citadel of Chaos Reviews

Have you recently read the Fighting Fantasy Gamebook? This area of the website has been set aside as a way for fans to comment on the Gamebook and let each other know what they think of the plot, twists, encounters, traps, paths, puzzles, rules and monsters? Let us and other fans known by emailing us with your review at Preferably we would like to see you write a minimum of two or three paragraphs or more than 200 words with an honest opinion on what you liked, didn't like or would have liked to have seen done differently, Please also add a rating; this is traditionally given using a scale from one to ten. You can read other fans opinions below, some of which were originally sent to us and hosted on the original AFF website and Fighting Fantasy

Citadel of Chaos Review 6

- David Barbara (Originally sent & posted on FFG) FF20 cover

Hi Fighting Fantasy, I sent this review previously, although I'm not sure if you successfully received it. Anyway, I've made one or two revisions so could you print this version instead. I hope you enjoy it.

Playing Fighting Fantasy in the early 80's was a formative experience - so I thought it might be interesting to revisit the series as an adult - and as an English teacher - and offer some critical reflection on the style, values, philosophy of the FF adventures.

A clandestine operation, infiltrating the labyrinthine Black Tower to assassinate Balthus Dire would seem a perilous, desperate undertaking. Of course, the task falls to YOU, a talented apprentice to a powerful Wizard, recruited by a King in an effort to avoid widespread war and bloodshed. Curiously, although the subtext infers that success is unlikely, YOU are enthusiastic, headstrong ... is it altruism or arrogance underscoring this desire to confront Dire? If anything, YOUR characterisation suggests a recklessness/precociousness, akin to Skywalker's impatience to face Vader in 'The Empire Strikes Back', an event alluded to in the closing stages of 'The Citadel of Chaos.'

In stark contrast to the squalid, neglected lairs of Firetop Mountain, the Citadel appears organised, ruthless, co-ordinated, in keeping with Dire's ambition to subjugate the Vale of Willow. The monsters are diverse and enterprising, taken from a variety of mythologies, co-existing Leprachauns, Sylphs and Gargoyles; many are hybrid constructs, such as the Ape/Dog and the fearsome Gark; most memorable are the nightmarish Gangees, vicious spirits guarding the highest levels of the tower. The Citadel's exotic bestiary succeeds in subverting the cliched traditions of D&D swords and sorcery.

The addition of magic intensifies the action - and makes for more unstable, unpredictable encounters. Many of Dire's servants are sorcerous in nature - selecting the correct spell isn't easy, and mistakes are cruelly punished. Certainly, if anything, it seems that the magic system is under-utilised - and the gamebook may have benefitted from another one or two major exchanges, testing the range and repertoire of YOUR spells more fully.

In saying this, the final confrontation with Balthus Dire is brilliantly conceived - rashness and folly is ruthlessly defeated. Balthus Dire observes himself as nobility, a military oligarch destined to rule the Vale with an iron fist. His immortal line 'Impudent peasant' indicates his class vanity/elitism (evocative of the hapless Shakespearean Othello, who refers to Desdemona as an 'impudent strumpet' - is it coincidental that Russ Nicholson presents Dire as a black man?) - a Marxist reading of the text would configure Dire as an overlord of industry and breeding, a hybrid of Capitalism and Classism; creatures such as the Gark, therefore, become lesser reflections of their master's misshapen ideological construction.

A highlight of the encounter has Dire offering power in exchange for your allegiance, a Faustian pact with strong intertextual links to the Star Wars saga.

Disappointingly, the adventure ends abruptly - there is little sense of achievement or reward conveyed by the final paragraph. Indeed, Jackson's style tends to be sparse, bleak, terse - reflecting, perhaps, the precise, geometric nature of the Black Tower's architecture and Dire's military stratagem.

Does this stand as a FF classic? The answer, overwhelmingly, must be an emphatic yes! Although lacking the nostalgic magic of 'The Warlock of Firetop Mountain', 'The Citadel of Chaos' boasts sinister adversaries, its own clever magic - and the most charismatic villain of the FF series. Jackson has created a postmodern adventure parodying aristocracy, fascism, militarism - a masterful addition to the genre.

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