Red Fox, £3.99, ISBN 0-09-915211-8
Poor John Grant. I understand what he’s feeling, I do. He was approached with a book project offered by an editor and took it without hesitation (maybe he needed to pay rent too), only to realize that not only does he have to write stories featuring characters created by Joe Dever, he gets only second billing when he has to write everything. How does an author go about making such stories his own?
Based on Joe Dever’s classic role-playing gamebook series Lone Wolf, the young adult fantasy series Joe Dever’s Legends of Lone Wolf (of which The Secret of Kazan-Oud is the eleventh book) revolves around the adventures of a young man named Lone Wolf, the last of a powerful monastic warrior order called the Kai Lords. About a decade ago, the evil Darklords of Helgedad launched a powerful attack on Lone Wolf’s homeland that destroyed the Kai Monastery and left the novice as the sole survivor. The last ten books in this series chronicled the attack and the aftermath, during which Lone Wolf underwent many adventures to restore the Kai Order. It’s not easy: as a novice, he has to first master the powers of the Kai before he can happily start another Kai school. To do this, he needs to locate the mythical Lorestones, powerful gems in which the wisdom of the Kai are contained. In this book, Lone Wolf has to enter the castle called Kazan-Oud on his own to challenge the ruler of the castle, Lord Zahda, for the ownership of the Lorestone of Herdos. If you are familiar with the gamebook series, this book is the novelization of the seventh Lone Wolf gamebook called Castle Death.
To be honest, I started reading this series from the first book, Eclipse of the Kai, only to give up on the series by the time book six, The Sacrifice of Ruanon, rolls in. I picked up this book because I found it in a used-book store and I was curious to see whether the series have improved sometime down the road. It’s unfortunate that I have to report that the series have improved in terms of writing but it still contains so much of John Grant’s barely restrained resentment towards Lone Wolf that the book becomes off-putting.
Let me explain. In the early books, Mr Grant decides to create some of his own characters to enhance the otherwise linear good-versus-evil storylines of the original gamebooks. I have nothing against that, of course. However, Mr Grant’s creations are in the forms of hideous Mary Sue females whose function in the book are to show readers how weak, useless, or stupid Lone Wolf is! There’s Qinefer, the worst of the lot, who gets magic powers and strength without even trying and spends her entire time in the books mocking Lone Wolf, nagging him about tao or some nonsense, and worst of all, stealing all the spotlight moments of heroism from Lone Wolf. In this book, instead of Qinnefer, I get another thinly-disguised hate letter from John Grant, Petra. Petra is smart! Petra shows Lone Wolf how wrong he is! Petra makes all the correct decisions! Petra is perfect! And my favorite – Petra saves the day (and thankfully dies in the process) while Lone Wolf is reduced to screaming and ranting at old wizards like a doddering, hysterical dingbat! Yes, Petra, beautiful perfect Petra dies at the end of the day. The Mary Sue canonization of Petra is now complete. Mr Grant writes females as well as Robert Jordan – these females are insufferably humorless, preachy, all-perfect and all-knowing, and all in all irritating to the extreme.
What I do like about this book is how Mr Grant strips away the obvious black/white morality of good versus evil in the original gamebook and presents something more ambiguous here. Lord Zahda isn’t a one-dimensional villain here, let’s just say, while the Elder Magi that rule Dessi aren’t completely goodly. Therefore, it is unfortunate that Mr Grant allows his resentment of his main character to affect his work. The reader can’t be faulted if she wonders what is going on when the main character is reduced to being a sniveling useless dolt while Mary Sue characters run rings around him and steal the thunder from him. Ultimately, this book – the whole series, actually – is a better showcase of the consequences of an author selling his soul to the almighty dollar and then being a poor sport about it when he feels trapped by his contract.