Castle Death
by Joe Dever, fantasy (1986)
Red Fox, £4.99, ISBN 0-09-947620-7


Castle Death is the seventh gamebook in the Lone Wolf series. It is also the first gamebook to become a straightforward dungeon crawl. Unfortunately, this bland and forgettable gamebook will be best known for its sadistic cruelty and some unfortunate implications in a scene where Mr Dever explicitly states that Lone Wolf's fair skin sends the dark-skinned monsters cowering in awe and fear. When you think about how Mr Dever made it clear that your character Lone Wolf's people are all tall, blond, and beautiful, that particular scene becomes even more disquieting to behold.

Anyway, the plot. You are now looking for the Lorestone of Herdos. Herdos is in Dessi, so you naturally arrive at Elzian, the capital city of the land. Dessi is covered by tropical jungles and the local natives - dark-skinned, mind you - serve a long-lived magical race called the Elder Magi. Still, the Elder Magi are kind enough to teach some of these natives magic, so the warrior-mage order of the Vakeros Knights is born. The Elder Magi is on your side, but alas, they warn you that the Lorestone of Herdos is not located in Herdos. No, it's located inside Kazan-Oud, a castle located in an island in Lake Khor, just beside Herdos. Kazan-Oud is a prison for an evil sorcerer called Zahda, and it is he who holds the Lorestone of Herdos in his grip. Therefore, to obtain the Lorestone, you will need to get into Kazan-Oud and slay Zahda. The Elder Magi will naturally not spare you any great magical weapons of mass destruction or even a potion of invisibility. But they do wish you good luck.

Kazan-Oud is a maze-like structure full of monsters existing in an impossible ecosystem - you have to wonder who is feeding all these monsters, since it's not like cows rain from the sky ever other day to become their daily nourishment. Fortunately, Joe Dever is not like Ian Livingstone - he doesn't force you to pick up junk while hoping that the stone with the number "111" you just happened to scrape off the back of a chair while groping around for your dropped contact lens is the key to unlock the final door. Instead, he forces you to experience some painful scenes here. You will help some hopeless git who just wants to save his sister, only to have him die slowly and painfully as you watch, helpless. You will save another diseased git only to have him die equally painfully - but at least he tells you of a way to escape the castle. Playing this campaign has me wondering just how bad a mood Mr Dever has to be in. In a series where it is normal for anyone who shares the same room as Lone Wolf to die painfully, Castle Death sets a new high for collateral damage.

[spoiler starts] Also, it is possible to lose your Sommerswerd for good here, although there is nothing to stop you from saying that surely, the Elder Magi will help you recover your lost Special Items in the rubble of Kazan-Oud after you have destroyed that place. You will, however, lose all your Backpack Items by the end of this adventure, so I am warning you in advance to leave all your favorite backpack junk at home. [spoiler ends]

Ultimately, the gameplay is too shallow, the atmosphere is too bleak and depressing, and, even if you succeed in retrieving the Lorestone of Herdos, you will most likely end the campaign gnashing your teeth and giving Joe Dever the finger. The only thing noteworthy about this below average gamebook is the controversy of possible racism in that scene I have mentioned earlier, but even so, you are probably so bummed by the way things turn out in the end that you will be wondering why Joe Dever didn't allow you to strip naked, dazzle the enemies witless with your beautiful white Aryan beauty, grab the Lorestone from the bedazzled Zahda, and be home in time for dinner.

One oogie! One oogie!


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