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Book Review

Book Cover

Fighting Fantasy
Book 2 - The Citadel of Chaos


Author: Steve Jackson
Wizard Books
RRP: £5.99, US $9.99, Cdn $12.00
ISBN: 978 184831076 6
Available 03 September 2009

Deep inside the Citadel of Chaos, the dread sorcerer Balthus Dire is plotting. Summoned by a desperate plea for help, you are the Vale of Willow's only hope. And you are no ordinary adventurer. As star pupil of the Grand Wizard of Yore and a master sorcerer yourself, you must strike at the very heart of Balthus Dire's nightmare world...

Following on from The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, Wizard Books now give the repackaged and re-branded treatment to the second ever Fighting Fantasy book The Citadel of Chaos, originally published back in 1983.

After the (almost) collaborative effort of Warlock, Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone decided to write the rest of their books separately, and The Citadel of Chaos is Jackson’s very first solo attempt.

I always found Jackson to be, by far, the more imaginative and interesting writer of the two. That’s not a criticism of Livingstone who wrote some cracking material himself and was responsible for some of the most popular books ever in the whole series - but whereas Livingstone’s work often had a ‘harmless’ feel to it (all frightened Dwarves and friendly Wizards with pointy hats), Jackson’s material always had a definite darker edge.

It’s as if Livingstone was clearly writing for the younger reader (which, in fairness, was the supposed intended market) and Jackson was aiming his work at a more mature audience, and as a result was delivering much more rewarding, quirky and sinister adventures.

This would seem to be confirmed when Jackson went on to write The Sorcery Epic, a massive four-volume spin-off from the main Fighting Fantasy series which was squarely aimed at the older reader.

Using a more advanced version of the Fighting Fantasy rules, this epic adventure was a fantastically rich and complex affair, and the result was quite possibly the greatest four gamebooks ever to be written. And you can perhaps see some of the roots of the glorious body of work that was The Sorcery Epic in this early masterpiece The Citadel of Chaos.

Essentially, the quest is much the same as Warlock of Firetop Mountain - infiltrate the evil villain’s lair and dispose of him. But from the very beginning, you can sense that this is going to be a very different, darker sort of adventure.

Whereas Warlock had a cheerful magical charm and innocence pervading every paragraph, Citadel of Chaos ventures a little deeper into the realms of pure horror, and there’s a genuine spooky atmosphere at work within the pages - helped along by more superbly sinister artwork from Russ Nicholson.

There’s also a much stronger interactive and engaging element to the adventure. In Warlock (and indeed in many other gamebooks) a lot of the choices you have to make are limited to which path you wish to take, and which door you want to open.

Citadel of Chaos tends to offer much more interesting and involving choices - such as which group of creatures you wish to approach, how exactly you are going to approach them, what exactly you are going to say to them, and so on. There’s a constant and genuine magical feeling that this quite special adventure was crafted with more love and imagination and attention to detail than most.

Another innovative feature of the adventure was the welcome inclusion of Magic skills. Instead of simply relying on your trusty sword (and the inevitable rounds of dice-rolling that would accompany every fight), your character - an apprentice Wizard, can also call upon a catalogue of Magic spells to get him out of sticky situations. This is another nice, touch which, again, would be greatly expanded and used to superb effect in The Sorcery Epic, but was never really seen again in the main Fighting Fantasy range.

It’s a shame that Jackson didn’t contribute more to the Fighting Fantasy series. Livingstone would prove to be the more prolific writer and continued to write new titles right up until the dying days of the original Puffin run, and has even recently made a welcome return to the series with a brand new adventure for the Wizard Books era.

Jackson, in contrast, wrote only five solo titles for the main series, and seemed to abandon the range relatively early on, writing his last book way back in 1986. If he could ever be lured back to write an all-new adventure for Wizard, that really would be a major event in the Fighting Fantasy world. But in the meantime, this gorgeous new repackaged version of The Citadel of Chaos offers up one of the very best books in the series from its greatest ever writer.


Daniel Salter

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