Puffin Books, £3.99, ISBN 0-14-032411-9
The cover of Phantoms of Fear suggests that a more appropriate title for the book would be Pink Snot of Death. But don’t let that stop you from tackling this one if you have always wanted to play a pansy Wood Elf constantly weeping and moaning about pollution and destruction of the forests. You don’t get to use bows here, alas, but you do get some useless spells that won’t help you much in this adventure.
You are the Eldenurin – “Defender-Shaman of the Tribe” – of your fellow Wood Elves in Affen Forests, somewhere north-east in Khul. Your beloved forest, alas, is now under threat. Ishtra, a Demon Prince, has managed to open a portal into the world somewhere in the forests and now the gods have pretty much commanded that you go ahead, locate the portal, and send Ishtra back home ASAP. Of course, you have to do this alone because it is always logical to send one puny elf out there in a quest to vanquish a Demon Prince and his army.
Phantoms of Fear could have been interesting, as since you are a shaman, you have the ability to switch between traveling in real life and in the dream world. However, the end result is a mess. There is a new combat system for fights taking place in the dream world, using a Power score instead the usual Stamina score, but for some reason the author decides that it will be groovy if the hero is disadvantaged against even the lowliest enemies in the dream world. You will also need to pick up items in order to triumph – Ishtra can’t be wounded by weapons made by mortal hands – and you do this by wandering randomly through the woods hoping that you are going the right way. The whole thing is as exciting as trying to swat flies on a boring afternoon.
There are some horrible puzzles here. For example, the Trial of Ghosts is a pain in the rear end, if you ever come across it, and what could have been an interesting puzzle ends up being a chore with numbers. On the other hand, the pixies of the Riddling Reaver have a pretty amusing riddle reminiscent of Louis Carroll’s brand of riddles. There is also a monotonous feel to the story as the setting is drab and uninteresting even in the dream world. Even the confrontation with Ishtra lacks excitement. It doesn’t help that the author inserts some thinly-veiled soapbox rants against pollution and urbanization, with the hero weeping over visions of a world taken over by machines and skyscrapers. The whole thing feels like an unoriginal “save the forests” scree – but perhaps that is to be expected when pansy elves get involved.
And, seriously… Weevil Man?