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Heart of Ice (Critical IF gamebooks)
Heart of Ice (Critical IF gamebooks)
by Dave Morris
Edition: Paperback
Price: 5.88

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best science fiction gamebook?, 12 April 2014
This is quite a rarity amongst adventure gamebooks in that it is actually a good science fiction one. At best I have found most science fiction gamebooks to be more than a little disappointing. Not so with ‘Heart of Ice’. It well written and atmospheric; possessing a good structure and some stunning characterisation.

The initial storyline isn’t immediately particularly exciting or original seeing as superficially your quest is to travel across a landscape to seek out a magical artefact; a mission common in adventure gamebooks. However, there is much more to it than this. Slowly over the course of the adventure more is revealed about the nature of the Heart, the cult that surrounds it and those that covet it. This involves a piecemeal gathering of information as the adventurer progresses. There are a variety of different theories that surround the origins and possibilities of the Heart, most of which are certainly interesting. But even by the close of the book the exact nature of the Heart is not entirely confirmed and/or explained; and the adventure is probably better off with this obscurity. There is certainly a moral sense within the book that humans are better off not knowing too much about it.

There is also a wealth of historical detail concerning the collapse of world civilisation in the background to your quest. All the rumours and snippets of information about Gaia, Paradox Wars, mutations and the environment help to create a very believable and in depth post-apocalyptic world. The exploration of this altered world is engrossing for the reader. Such images as the overgrown ruins of Marseilles or the snow covered Pyramids of Giza are quite memorable. It all forms a very atmospheric adventure.

One of the greatest strengths of this adventure is the array of interesting characters that compete for the object of the reader’s quest. Depending upon your choices of routes and destinations it is quite possible to interact with several of these throughout the course of the adventure. They also give the adventure another level as you compete against them. The final stages of the adventure thus become a dangerous mix of alliances and betrayals in which the reader is given quite a substantial choice.

It is a fairly challenging gamebook. The initial stages are relatively simple enough if you opt for the right skill set. The game mechanism of using various skills is more unbalanced than the previous books of the series. Certain skills are far more useful than others. Thus your selection is more important to your success. The real tricky section of the adventure is the traversing of the ices wastes of the Sahara. The limit of eight items makes this extremely difficult as a quite extensive list of survival equipment and supplies are needs. Managing this correctly is quite difficult and requires a certain amount of trial and error.

There are actually several possible endings where the reader technically ‘wins’. This provides a fair scope for re-playing. The actual final paragraph is effectively the moral and ethical choice. As there has been a general moral aspect to the conclusions of the other books in the series it can be assumed that this is intended as the ultimate victory. However, some of the other endings are more entertaining and worth reaching.


The Crooked Man (Doctor Who: The Fourth Doctor Adventures)
The Crooked Man (Doctor Who: The Fourth Doctor Adventures)
by John Dorney
Edition: Audio CD
Price: 10.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An unworldy serial killer stalks a quaint coastal town, 1 April 2014
This is yet another great adventure for the Doctor and Leela from the latest series of Fourth Doctor audios. The content seems pretty apt for the Fourth Doctor with a seaside town, mad old ladies, eccentric shopkeepers and an insane serial killer on the loose. The story moves effortlessly between elements of horror and humour as well as possessing some great dialogue and atmosphere. However, despite all the horror and fun there is a quite a touching core to this audio. It also loosely serves as a sequel to one of the best Second Doctor serials (to say which would spoil the story).

It is quite a difficult story to review without giving anything away. It is split into two halves, successfully divided over the two episodes. The first takes place within the ‘real’ world of the seaside town and ends on a strong cliff-hanger that takes the story into a more bizarre direction in the second episode. Both halves contain some great revelations that are sure to grab the listener’s attention.

The Crooked Man is an excellent main antagonist. He’s a great concept, superbly performed and makes a good adversary for Tom Baker to play against. He also proves a capable adversary for Leela. The malicious nature of the Crooked Man oozes out with every speech or action and the contrast with the quaint coastal village emphasises his horrific acts.

There is a plethora of bizarre and interesting characters, all of whom Tom Baker seems to thoroughly enjoy interacting with. There is also a science fiction fan whose sci-fi knowledge helps to save the day; a character which many listeners may emphasise with. This also includes a reference to the Fighting Fantasy series of gamebooks which has at times itself taken some influence from Doctor Who.

The previous two stories in this series have exhibited a small rift between the Doctor and Leela. There is no such division in this audio and both characters work incredibly well together, utilising each other’s strengths.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 13, 2014 2:12 AM BST


Necklace of Skulls (Critical IF gamebooks)
Necklace of Skulls (Critical IF gamebooks)
by Dave Morris
Edition: Paperback
Price: 5.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Mayan adventure, 31 Mar 2014
The main thing that this gamebook has going for it is probably its setting. Few gamebooks seem to have set their adventures in one of the ancient Mesoamerican civilisations. The Mayan locale makes it virtually unique. Admittedly in real terms the reader is still doing much the same as they might be in a fantasy world setting. But after a couple of attempts at completing the adventure the atmosphere does start to draw the reader in and becomes more effective than it is initially.

Mayan culture had previously been a major influence for the Golden Dragon gamebook ‘Temple of Flame’ (co-written by Dave Morris who also writes this). But this was more of a fantasy/Indiana Jones style quest borrowing from Mesoamerican and other ancient civilisations. ‘Necklace of Skulls’ on the other hand is quite clearly meant to be an adventure that takes place in the world of the Maya.

Essentially though, it is quasi-historical, baring similarities geographically and landscape wise. The names of the various places you can visit have a Mayan sound to them. Some of names are quite clearly based on actual place names; Koba instead of Kabah, Oshmal instead of Uxmal. Nachan, however, seems to take the place of Palenque as there is a similar tomb with a reference to Pakal, Palenque’s most famous king. Furthermore, there is also a somewhat whimsical reference to the Olmecs, one of Central America’s oldest civilisations. Anyone who has seen one of the Olmec heads has probably imagined the explanation amusingly proffered in this adventure for the large stone head.

Additionally, it is also a somewhat authentic touch that a fair proportion of the adventure revolves around the Ball Game endemic of many Central American civilisations. The adventurer will need to be fairly proficient in it to achieve victory.

The plot initially feels as if it is going to be fairly basic, the crux of it being that you must choose various routes to travel across the land to find out what fate has befallen your brother, Morning Star. The routes which can be followed are quite complex as they continually cross-over and interlock. As an adventurer you are really searching for the right items and code words that, acting with your chosen skills, will get you to that final confrontation. The complexities of the storyline are not readily apparent until you complete the adventure with the most favourable ending. By then the reader feels quite involved.

The flaws of this book are generally the same that are common with the Virtual reality series; the lack of dice or equivalent causes too much trial and error, the equipment restriction has no bearing on size/weight (ie a jade bead that fits under your tongue takes up as much space as a ball or a sword) and a lack of combat. There is also a lack of opponents to be faced in this gamebook and few are worthwhile or memorable. But opposed to this there is a good assortment of other characters to interact with. The eponymous Necklace of Skulls (he is a demonic sorcerer rather an item) is a reasonable final opponent though. I particularly like that defeating him does not necessary mean engaging him in direct combat, depending upon your choices of course.

In terms of difficulty it is quite tricky to rate this book. That is because there are two positive endings. You can achieve the simpler of the two relatively easily. One of the flaws of this adventure is that it is somewhat based on a trial and error approach. After two attempts and some guesswork I was pretty sure I had it sussed and achieved the easier ending on my third go. It took me many more to achieve the full ending however and this added a lot more playability to the adventure.


Virtual Reality: Coils of Hate
Virtual Reality: Coils of Hate
by Mark Smith
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars Atmospheric, tense and brilliant, 31 Mar 2014
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Set in a quasi-historical locale reminiscent of Venice at the height of its power, this is an adventure thick with atmosphere and tension. It takes place almost entirely within the corrupt city of Godorno (which originally appeared early in the Virtual Reality series in ‘Green Blood’ by the same author) whose people suffer under the oppression and racism of the overlord. The reader plays the role of a disenfranchised citizen whose people, the Judain, have been particularly persecuted.

The quest/mission to complete within this gamebook isn’t readily apparent from its outset. This is a good approach with this style plot as it allows it to be revealed as the reader investigates and learns. The initial objective is to try and win freedom from oppression for your people. This involves everything from trying to organise and finance a rebellion to helping impoverished or endangered individuals. It gives the adventurer a multitude of varied tasks to test their chosen skills and items. As the adventure progresses the reader realises that they will have to take on the physical manifestation of Hate, spawned from the corruption and degeneracy of Godorno, and find some way to subdue it before it consumes the city.

The city is incredibly detailed and intricate. Initially it is a little confusing as many routes interact throughout the city layout and several areas and buildings can be re-visited at different points. The primary difficulty in completing this gamebook is probably the navigating of the city and managing to visit places at the most opportune times. It is fiddly but not that frustrating as it is very enjoyable exploring the city and its wonders. Furthermore, the more you explore the more the city starts to makes sense and the more you begin to a like one of its citizens.

The adventure is also full of a multitude of characters from differing backgrounds and positions. Many of these can be and/or should be encountered more than once, usually under different circumstances. Someone initially hostile can easily be amicable on your next encounter with them depending upon how their circumstances have changed. The use of recurring characters helps to make the city feel more alive and gives it a sense of realism. It also means that these characters are realised more fully through your interaction with them. The loss of friends you might make also helps to make the situation more atmospheric and dangerous.
It is also worth mentioning Tyutchev. He doesn’t have a great deal to do with the story in particular but he makes a memorable impression should you encounter him. He is one of the major antagonists, along with his companions Cassandra and Thaum, in the ‘Way of the Tiger’ gamebooks, written by the same author of this. They also make a brief, but extremely irritating appearance in the Fighting Fantasy gamebook ‘Talisman of Death’ (co-written by Mark Smith).

The physical manifestation of Hate as an entity is a fantastic concept. It is fairly original amongst gamebooks and makes for some quite horrific and disturbing scenes. It functions as an oppressive presence throughout the adventure and the reader is continually at risk from it.

This is a fairly complicated adventure with the route to success often unclear. There are so many small sub-quests, some of which are a waste of time and others vitally important, that choosing what to do next is sometimes confusing. It is substantially more difficult than its two predecessors in the range and one of the more complicated Virtual Reality Adventures. There is certainly scope for re-reading after the adventure has been completed. It also makes for some compulsive reading and is one of the best structured cities to appear in gamebooks.

The only thing wrong with this book is that, for some reason, it hasn’t been republished as part of the Critical IF range. Hopefully this will be remedied.


Down Among the Dead Men (Critical IF gamebooks)
Down Among the Dead Men (Critical IF gamebooks)
by Dave Morris
Edition: Paperback
Price: 5.62

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Pirate fun, 31 Mar 2014
There has been a scattering of pirate based role playing books across the various different ranges of gamebooks, but, if they can be counted as their own genre or sub-genre, there haven't really been that many of them. This is probably because general piracy alone isn't enough to structure a full adventure. There needs to be some type of mission or quest rather than just roaming the sea looting and pillaging. `Down Among the Dead Men' provides this by giving the reader the task of trying to thwart a conspiracy that involves the kidnapping of the queen, as well as gaining revenge upon the evil Skarvench in the process.

Set in a world strongly reminiscent of the Caribbean when Europeans fought between themselves to obtain colonies at the expense of the local populations, the adventure is roughly divided into two sections. In the first part the adventurer must escape from the pirate ship upon which he is basically a slave and find his way back to civilisation. Once there the second stage of the adventure begins which involves obtaining the support and a ship necessary to stop the schemes of Skarvench and his allies. These two are not mutually exclusive, however. The route and method of returning to civilisation and who you encounter and what you find whilst doing so are deciding factors in your success during the second part.

The first part of the adventure can be a lot of fun. It can also be very frustrating. There is a wide selection of interlocking routes and a vast variety of different encounters. They cover the stereotypical elements you might expect from a Sinbad style adventure and the journey back to civilisation carries a vague influence of the Odyssey, there is even a Circe type figure. This section can be a bit tricky and disorientating but a successful acquisition of items and information can make the second half of the adventure much easier.

Skarvench works well as the major villain. He's the typical evil pirate but the various encounters you can have with him throughout the adventure always make it seem as if he is an active part of it, rather than just being the main antagonist you face at the conclusion. It is a shame really that your final fight with him is a little abrupt in the text. Mirabilis, however, lacks a large enough role to give him much of a character.

The Virtual Reality rules work reasonably well here. There is a good balance of items and skills necessary to win and the lack of a combat system hinders this adventure less than some of the others in the series as there are still some good fights against a variety of opponents. It is well written, reasonably challenging and includes enough different routes and methods to success that there is certainly scope for re-reads.


Virtual Reality: Down Among the Dead Men
Virtual Reality: Down Among the Dead Men
by Dave Morris
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars Pirate fun, 31 Mar 2014
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There has been a scattering of pirate based role playing books across the various different ranges of gamebooks, but, if they can be counted as their own genre or sub-genre, there haven’t really been that many of them. This is probably because general piracy alone isn’t enough to structure a full adventure. There needs to be some type of mission or quest rather than just roaming the sea looting and pillaging. ‘Down Among the Dead Men’ provides this by giving the reader the task of trying to thwart a conspiracy that involves the kidnapping of the queen, as well as gaining revenge upon the evil Skarvench in the process.

Set in a world strongly reminiscent of the Caribbean when Europeans fought between themselves to obtain colonies at the expense of the local populations, the adventure is roughly divided into two sections. In the first part the adventurer must escape from the pirate ship upon which he is basically a slave and find his way back to civilisation. Once there the second stage of the adventure begins which involves obtaining the support and a ship necessary to stop the schemes of Skarvench and his allies. These two are not mutually exclusive, however. The route and method of returning to civilisation and who you encounter and what you find whilst doing so are deciding factors in your success during the second part.

The first part of the adventure can be a lot of fun. It can also be very frustrating. There is a wide selection of interlocking routes and a vast variety of different encounters. They cover the stereotypical elements you might expect from a Sinbad style adventure and the journey back to civilisation carries a vague influence of the Odyssey, there is even a Circe type figure. This section can be a bit tricky and disorientating but a successful acquisition of items and information can make the second half of the adventure much easier.

Skarvench works well as the major vision. He’s the typical evil pirate but the various encounters you can have with him throughout the adventure always make it seem as if he is an active part of it, rather than just being the main antagonist you face at the conclusion. It is a shame really that your final fight with him is a little abrupt in the text. Mirabilis, however, lacks a large enough role to give him much of a character.

The Virtual Reality rules work reasonably well here. There is a good balance of items and skills necessary to win and the lack of a combat system hinders this adventure less than some of the others in the series as there are still some good fights against a variety of opponents. It is well written, reasonably challenging and includes enough different routes and methods to success that there is certainly scope for re-reads.


Virtual Reality: Green Blood
Virtual Reality: Green Blood
by Mark Smith
Edition: Paperback

3.0 out of 5 stars Rescuing the forest from a steampunk invasion, 31 Mar 2014
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This is a review for Green Blood

Virtual Reality Adventures attempt to differentiate themselves from other gamebooks by proclaiming that they do not use dice or any `lengthy rules'. Of course there have been other series of role playing books that haven't used dice and have very few rules. To be honest, they are generally never as good as those that do use dice or the equivalent. The question is more one of balance. Rules and the use of dice should not be so complicated that they spoil the enjoyment of the adventure nor should they be so basic that the interactive element is lost.

Despite their claims Virtual Reality Adventures do possess a set of rules, which, ironically, are more complicated than those for some gamebooks. The practicalities of their game system don't really manifest themselves too much within the first book of the series. Your limit of how many items of equipment you can carry can increase the playability (and enjoyment and/or frustration) of some of the later books in the series but it isn't really very relevant to this first book. There aren't that many items involved in the story and it would be extremely unlikely in this adventure if your total of eight was ever reached.

The lack of dice, or something similar, is replaced by choosing a selection of abilities or making use of items that can be found. Unfortunately you don't use your abilities to a large degree in this adventure and thus selecting what type of character to play out of the multitude to choose from feels a little pointless. There is also a distinct lack of items to be utilised. Thus the lack of dice results in having far fewer opponents to face or ordeals to be overcome than the average adventure gamebook.

All of the above probably contribute in making this a relatively easy gamebook to complete. There isn't much of a challenge with few foes to overcome, not that many routes and many choices being fairly obvious what you should or shouldn't do. Despite the 500 reference total this is also a very short adventure. There isn't a great deal to do and it won't take very long to read. Once you have completed it there really isn't much scope for replays either.

On the plus side though it is a decent, if not that original, story and it is quite well written. Certain sequences/scenarios are very enjoyable and there are some reasonably good characters. A pleasant atmosphere also pervades it. However, this sometimes ruins any sense of tension.

Therefore if you want a pleasant read for a couple of hours that isn't too taxing on the adventurer this book would suit you. However, if you want a challenge or something to engross you for a few days or so then this isn't the gamebook.


Doctor Who: Illegal Alien: The Monster Collection Edition (Doctor Who (BBC Paperback))
Doctor Who: Illegal Alien: The Monster Collection Edition (Doctor Who (BBC Paperback))
by Mike Tucker
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.57

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Cybermen versus Nazis, 27 Mar 2014
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This is a fairly typical Cybermen romp and it ticks all the right boxes. The Cybermen are a threatening presence in the background for the earlier stages of the book. This is an area where they are quite successful and lends itself wonderfully to a chaotic Second World War London during the blitz. The Lurker is particularly effective in this environment.

The Cybermats are also included and they have one of their more substantial roles, featuring throughout the novel. Oddly they are somewhat reminiscent of those who have appeared more recently during the Eleventh Doctor’s tenure. In fact, the question of what era the Cybermen are from ion this novel tends to permeate the whole story. It is never actually disclosed but in leaving it vague they could be any number of Cybermen designs.

The Doctor and Ace are both well characterised and pretty close to their television personas. Although the Seventh Doctor’s pre-occupation with chess is a little dull by now. Ace participates in plenty of action. She has a lot to do which is quite varied, including flirting with McBride (who for some reason is called ‘McBridge’ on the back cover of the book).

There are some decent subsidiary characters, even one called Peddler (a reference to the co-creator of the Cybermen I presume). McBride is probably the best of them and gels well with the Doctor and Ace. Unfortunately his role dwindles away quite considerably in the latter stages of the book.

The multitude of German SS and military figures are all quite stereotypical, but that is to be expected considering the limits of their roles. However, the comparison and contrast between their ideologies and objectives and those of the Cybermen is an area of philosophical interest.

With a lot of action, a lot of tension and a story that feels very much like it belongs in the Seventh Doctor’s era, this is certainly an entertaining story and a good one to represent the Cybermen in the Monster Collection.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 7, 2014 1:00 AM BST


Doctor Who: Scales of Injustice: The Monster Collection Edition (Doctor Who (BBC Paperback))
Doctor Who: Scales of Injustice: The Monster Collection Edition (Doctor Who (BBC Paperback))
by Gary Russell
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.39

4.0 out of 5 stars Goodbye to Liz Shaw, hello to Mike Yates, 26 Mar 2014
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The Silurians (or whatever you wish to call them – this book is certainly unsure as to how they should be referred to, making it part of the story) have never been out and out villains. They may have been a bit more aggressive in later television stories but in ‘The Silurians’, which takes place shortly before this book, it was more a lack of understanding and a subsequent mistrust between individuals, human and Silurian, that caused violence. The Silurians of this book are in much a similar vein. As you might expect there are those that wish to exterminate mankind, those who consider peace and those who wish to experiment on humans. Auggi is particularly aggressive for a Silurian, however. Her character is somewhat similar to Broton. Perhaps that is because a few elements of ‘Terror of the Zygons’ have filtered into this story, including the use of a large beast mistaken for the Loch Ness Monster. These Silurians are unique in a certain way though (or at least some of them are). But that is basically the case to some degree with every colony of Silurians.

For some years this novel had been a difficult book to obtain. Because of this it was made available in PDF format upon the Doctor Who website. It is, therefore, good to see it republished as part of the Monster Collection. It is good to see it back in print for other reasons as well.

Firstly, although the Doctor is reasonably well characterised and has plenty to do in the story, the focus is probably more on some of the more familiar members of UNIT. This is a particularly good story for Liz Shaw, the Brigadier and Yates. The novel offers a good insight into their personal lives and aspirations. Partly this is due to their being a noticeable gap in events between the first two years of Jon Pertwee’s tenure. Russell attempts to address this by providing explanations for Liz’s departure and Yates’ arrival and appointment as the Brigadier’s second (although I’m not sure how Yates’ situation works out in relation to the Big Finish audio ‘Vengeance of the Stones’, which covers similar ground). Naturally this allows for more background on them and for more of the story to come from their perspectives. Liz’s situation is particularly well dealt with, especially her anxiety over whether or not she should remain with UNIT.

There is quite an influence from outside the confines of the programme in these matters. Liz certainly seems to be more like the older version of her portrayed in the straight to video PROBE series and much of the Brigadier’s life outside of UNIT seems to have been influenced from the Yeti spin-off ‘Downtime’. The Brigadier’s daughter, Kate, who appeared in ‘Downtime’ is featured in this novel as a young child. From these humble beginnings she was, of course, to finally appear in the programme in 2013 and featured in the fiftieth anniversary special.

The novel is quite heavy with continuity references. Sometimes these are a little frivolous or the author showing off his knowledge, but at other times they are put to good use. They are at their best when used to attempt to tie up all the threads of the seventh series. Predominantly this is to do with Liz and Yates as stated above. However, the use of various bits of technology and knowledge obtained from UNIT’s encounters and their adoption and misuse by government bodies is also a very important aspect of this book.

There is a lot going on in this novel and sometimes things seem to lack the attention they deserve like the Stalker (who seems a bit irrelevant) or Marc Marshall (whose role is little callously down played). Mainly, though, there are a lot of interesting aspects that make a fairly good story.


Doctor Who: Touched by an Angel: The Monster Collection Edition
Doctor Who: Touched by an Angel: The Monster Collection Edition
by Jonathan Morris
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.46

4.0 out of 5 stars A 'touching' story, 24 Mar 2014
The Weeping Angels are the only monsters in this Monster Collection that were created since the programme’s return in 2005. Their inclusion is understandable as they have undoubtedly earnt their place amongst the Doctor’s most memorable foes.

The Angels featured in this novel are close to their original remit. There are no giant Angels or large armies of them. Just as in ‘Blink’ there is only a small scavenging group. They’re attempting to create a paradox centred round the unfortunate Mark Whitaker which they can then feed off. The Doctor, Amy and Rory are of course endeavouring to prevent this. But neither the Tardis crew nor the Weeping Angels have full control over this. The course of events, or their disruption, is much more to do with the clash of morals and emotions of Mark Whitaker. The Doctor and the Angels can only hope to influence his actions and try to manipulate him.

As such Mark Whitaker is really the main character of the novel. The story is predominantly from his perspective as he tries to deal with his emotional loss and the circumstances he has found himself in. As such he is used by the author in a similar way to Sally Sparrow. This is his story as much as ‘Blink’ was hers.

The author has concentrated a lot of effort into the development of the character. Mark Whitaker feels incredibly believable and realistic. He is also a figure very deserving of the reader’s sympathy. It is very easy on an emotional level for the reader to want Mark to succeed in his personal objectives despite the warnings of the Doctor. It is a testament to the author’s skill in creating a character that the reader knows is wrong in what he attempts but wants him to succeed anyway.

If you happened to go to university/college in the early to mid-nineties you are probably even more likely to emphasise with the character of Mark. The author scatters various references to what was popular at the time in such an environment and seems to be pretty knowledgeable of various trends.

If anything, despite being a Doctor Who novel, the Tardis crew sometimes feel a little superfluous to Mark’s story. There is also occasionally a jarring contrast between their antics and jovial dialogue with the drama and emotional state of Mark.

The Angels are great and not overused in the novel. However, even though they are the reason for the re-publication of this novel and its entry into this range, the reader is far more likely to be ‘touched’ by Mark Whitaker’s story.


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