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Book Review

Book Cover

Fighting Fantasy
Book 3 - Deathtrap Dungeon


Author: Ian Livingstone
Wizard Books
RRP: £5.99, US $9.99, Cdn $12.00
ISBN: 978 184831077 3
Available 03 September 2009

Down in the dark, twisting labyrinth of Fang, unknown horrors await you. Devised by the devilish mind of Baron Sukumvit, the labyrinth is riddled with fiendish traps and bloodthirsty monsters, which will test your skills almost beyond the limit of endurance. Should you somehow find your way out, you will be wealthy beyond your dreams. First you must survive...

If a group of hardened, battle-weary and blood-stained Fighting Fantasy adventurers were to gather round a table in the Black Lobster Tavern (their fingers all anxiously twitching from years and years of endlessly rolling dice) and have an enthusiastic and perhaps violent debate over which was the very best Fighting Fantasy book ever to hit the shelves, then chances are that Ian Livingstone’s Deathtrap Dungeon would be very near the top.

First published way back in 1984 as the sixth book in the original Puffin series, the title has now been re-positioned as the third book in Wizard’s all-new re-packaged range, and is a genuine contender for the crown of most popular Fighting Fantasy gamebook of all time.

It’s hard to define the exact source of Deathtrap Dungeon’s massive popularity with readers, but I suspect that one clue may be in its perfect blend of the simple and the devious.

The scenario itself is perfectly straightforward and simplistic - you are a foolhardy adventurer (aren’t you always?) who has decided to enter The Trial of Champions, a reckless and stupendously dangerous contest held on the island of Fang, in which you (and indeed five other contestants) have to brave the terrors of the legendary Deathtrap Dungeon and be the first one ever to come out alive at the other end.

Nothing too groundbreaking there then, all we have here is essentially another Dungeon adventure. But it’s a thumping good Dungeon adventure.

Livingstone has constructed a wonderful labyrinth of fiendish tricks and traps that is likely to ensnare even the most experienced adventurer, and will take a great deal of dedicated effort from the reader if they ever want to reach the ultimate goal.

In fact, coming back to the book 25 years on, I was genuinely surprised at the enormously high difficulty factor - there are several instant-death paragraphs scattered liberally throughout the book, whereby simply innocently opening a box or examining the scenery just a little too closely, can bring your adventure to a premature and brutal end, sending you scuttling right back to the very beginning.

There are plenty of nice innovative touches, such as the interaction between your rival contestants in the Trial of Champions - some of whom are already dead by the time you bump into them, but you can forge temporary and uneasy alliances with the ones who are still going strong - although this will inevitably lead to one of the most gut-wrenching sequences ever in a Fighting Fantasy book, as there can be only one winner...

Iain McCaig’s artwork throughout the book is suitably atmospheric and gruesome, and in fact it’s perhaps worth reflecting on how the brave and daring artwork in the Fighting Fantasy series in general was such an integral part of the success of the series.

It could very easily have gone so wrong - we could have ended up with a bunch of child-friendly drawings featuring big, smiling dragons and slightly grumpy goblins. But Jackson and Livingstone insisted on using the ambitious illustrators from the flourishing White Dwarf fantasy magazine, and the results can be seen in the wonderfully evocative and nightmarish imagery throughout the series.

Looking back, it’s actually a bit disturbing to see how graphic and horrific some of the artwork was in these early volumes - but it couldn’t and shouldn’t have been any other way. These powerful visuals lent a unique flavour to the Fighting Fantasy series and played a crucial part in the unique appeal of the books.

So... is Deathtrap Dungeon the best Fighting Fantasy book ever? In my opinion, no.

It will always be massively popular with the fans, but I personally don’t think it quite matches the quality of most of Steve Jackson’s superb material, and in fact I don’t even think it's Livingstone’s best book.

But it’s certainly a classic in its own right, and if you haven’t yet explored this deadly and devious labyrinth, then the lavishly repackaged Deathtrap Dungeon is well worth a visit.


Daniel Salter

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