By Mirko Simon Ruckels
Only one review for the pinnacle of the fighting fantasy series? (The pinnacle, along with the Sorcery series, for me). Well here is another review to hopefully further cement it's already hallowed reputation.
Please permit me to tell you about the excitement that I felt upon buying this book (and all the best FF books really) before I begin the review: I bought the fabled book 24 when it was first released in the late 80's. I remember the rabid excitement of checking newsagents, walking to the back of the store (where the fighting fantasy books were invariably located), and looking for that comforting green spine with black text..... and not just the green spine, but a new number and title also. It was all so very exciting and meaningful for me.
At this point, there would either be a sagging disappointment at the sight of the old familiar fighting fantasy books and no new entry, (followed by a derisive sniff at the **** taste of whatever newsagent I happened to be in) or a sudden adrenalin bolt at the sight of a new number! 24. Oh joy! A strange new title would seize my attention, something that would take a second to compute and register in my excited state. Creature of Havoc. Unusual. I would grab this new book, joy flooding through me, which sometimes would turn to disappointment if it was a sci-fi entry instead of high fantasy. I always preferred the fantasy ones (forgive me, I was a kid, now some of the sci-fi ones seem kind of cool). But Robot Commando? Shudder. This one was definitely fantasy.
So, a give flick through any new FF book gave me all the information I needed- first, number of entries, check. 400 was good, but this strange new book had 460. Next, was the artist as awesome as Ian McCaig? Forest of Doom was the standard by which all others were judged. Fine and detailed creatures, lavished with sinister detail and imagination. For book 24, Allan Langford was great- the art was detailed, dark and slightly twisted. What was the style of the art like? detailed or rushed? The Text-to- space ratio on the page (okay, I exhibited some pretty autistic traits); A large amount of text signified depth. This one had big chunky paragraphs, and what looked to be code on some of the pages. How awesome. Next, was there a map? Dave Andrew's map was brilliantly medieval looking, creating a sinewy visual style that connected perfectly with Jackson's darker tone. Finally, there was always a glance at the adventure sheet for any new interesting mechanisms. I was becoming very excited. And this was all still while standing in the isle of the newsagent.
I was delighted. I knew there was something special about this one. This feeling was further reinforced by the fact that it was actually written by Steve Jackson himself. Any book by the actual authors was always a cause for extra celebration. Now, to the actual content. The journey I went on as I entered the world cannot be underestimated. I thought Jackson was great for basing the book in the more familiar areas of Allansia, as I felt too many of the other authors were too quick in introducing new areas that spread the fighting fantasy mythology too thin. Something in the heartlands of Allansia was perfect, from the man who gave us easily the best non-Allansia area as well in the Sorcery series.
The underground dungeon the adventure begins in was fiendish, and I remember trying to map it, being all the more difficult due to the random nature of the character control mechanic at the start of the book. The secret entries were imaginative and brilliant, taken to a conclusion not matched by any fighting fantasy book before or since. The book takes on more and more epic tones as the sprawling dungeon gives way to the creepy witch village of Dree, and the mysterious rainbow ponds, compete with the massive twist at the end.
The atmosphere was so very Jackson-esque, with his penchant of leading the reader into the most dire situations, yet always with subtle clues to make it fair was at its height here. Jackson's writing was always intelligent, scarier and more disturbing than Livingstone, although I equally loved Livingstone's writing for his warmer tone, and ability to render high fantasy so perfectly.
This book had depth that few others had. A mood so captivating that I remember looking up after finishing, feeling like I had to get air into my lungs after being in the dark depths for so long. It's hard to explain. If you 'got' fighting fantasy books (and knew they were better than the ***** choose your own adventure brand) there's no need to explain, if you don't get it, there's no way to explain other than to wax lyrical about them. And if you haven't read Creature of Havoc yet, then what the hell are you doing reading this lengthy review? Roll a die. If you roll 1-6, you rush to your computer, navigate to eBay, pummel the keyboard with your large furry fists, but yet manage to order an original edition of Creature of Havoc. Green spine edition. With the dagger emblem. And the zig zaggy green banner.
(You receive the book a few days later only to cram the parcel into your mouth, swallowing it whole. Damn).