Red Fox, £3.99, ISBN 0-09-925301-1
Rune War is the 24th gamebook in the Lone Wolf series and the fourth in which you play some random Kai Grand Master instead of Lone Wolf. Just when the series has descended into meandering aimlessness, this particular campaign manages to inject some brief life into the series.
You are now back in Northern Magnamund, but you have barely stepped foot into the Kai Monastery when Lone Wolf tells you that it is time once again to whack some bad guys. This time around, Lord Vandyan of Eldenora is waging war on the rest of the Stornlands and so far he has been very successful. Gwynian the Sage – who for some reason still isn’t dead yet, gah – naturally runs off to Lone Wolf to beg for help in protecting his beloved Lyris from Lord Vandyan’s armies. Apparently Lord Vandyan’s army is boosted by the might of the Vorka, demonic creatures created by Agarash the Damned a long, long time ago. Lord Vandyan has discovered some ancient runes belonging to Agarash and is now using them to create and summon demons to his side. Lone Wolf will lead the allied army against Lord Vandyan’s troops, while it is up to you to stealthily infiltrate Duadon, the capital city of Eldenora, to halt the production of the Vorka.
Notice that the Elder Magi are nowhere to be found in this campaign, despite the fact that they are created to repel the forces of Agarash the Damned. Once again, this is irrefutable evidence that Lord Rimoah and his bunch of doddering supremely useless minions should have been fed to the Giaks a long time.
Rune War is an unexpectedly energetic and entertaining campaign, which is a pleasant surprise considering how stale the recent gamebooks in this series had been. There is actually a credible atmosphere of danger and suspense in this campaign, a gripping epic feel to the proceeding, and a memorable climactic battle with the big bad villains. There is even an amusing return to the style of yore when people who even breathe the same oxygen as you die once they have outlived their usefulness. Well-paced, fun, and challenging, this gamebook is a welcome rebound to the quality of the old gamebooks.
Watch out for some trademarked pedestrian writing from this author though. There is an amusing oh-so-British way in which the author has Lone Wolf disparaging Lord Vandyan’s qualities as a leader – despite the fact that Vandyan is actually succeeding in his plans – because Vandyan isn’t born with noble blood. Like Lone Wolf, your Kai Grand Master character is still too easily moved to gasp in shock despite the fact that your character have seen far worse so many times in previous campaigns. You can shoot lightning bolts from your hands, levitate, tell bears to dance the tango, and create a mind shield, but pick a wrong number from the Random Number Table and you can get killed by an arrow. Also, poor Vandyan is depicted as a cowardly sniveling villain, which isn’t just lazy stereotyping in action but also a bewildering kind of slipshod writing. How can a cowardly pipsqueak manage to command an army of brutal men to nearly overrun the Stornlands?
But hey, Rune War is easily the best gamebook in the New Order phase of the Lone Wolf series, which isn’t saying much, honestly, but still, it’s a cause for some celebration.