on 9 February 2015
A fighting fantasy like no other, easily eclipsing the last ocean-based book before it-'Seas Of Blood'-because this actually takes place IN the sea-i.e under the water, whereupon you are given gills via a spell following a nasty encounter/escape from the pirates who killed your entire crew. Down into the sunken city of Atlantis you go, where you have until nightfall to find a way home and defeat the pirates. This was the first FF gamebook I ever got back in my long gone childhood and utterly loved it, even though I quickly figured there would never, sadly, be another underwater adventure like this. It's very uniqueness comes from its setting and rich plot, and the very broad range of sea based creatures you'd never meet on land for obvious reasons. It deserved to be the first to go over 400 entries, not the lamentable and wretched 'Creature Of Havoc'.
'Demons Of The Deep' is, sadly, an easy book to complete in the obvious sense, nonetheless if you are doing it properly, there is only one full ending that convinces you you've done it right-and that is to defeat and kill the pirates completely whilst getting enough treasure to set you up for the rest of your days, while also being able to get back to land from the many miles out to sea you must be! The answer here to simply collect as many Black Pearls as possible Or, failing enough Pearls found, another shorter but slightly more dangerous way which is also winning the book properly-but only if you fight your so-called ally at the end! This wonderful book showcases a fair number of endings where you will survive, but these are almost false endings, because though you have your life, you'll have no money, little likelihood of employment once back on dry land, and you may not even have the means to get home anyway but swim. And in that sea!
You can progress to the so-called end very quickly, but long experience of this book made me realise it was a deliberate trick. No sooner are you in the big old blue from the pirate crew, several choices you make will sea you (sorry) miss out on several areas, and as each new choice results from your onward explorations, those in turn will also miss out others, as there's no backtracking on most. It's a highly clever ruse, and unlike certain other books, with 'Demons' you really want to space your time out as long as possible, exploring everywhere you can and working out where you might have missed something. As I love everything in it, I try and cover all corners and face all foes, but this is not always possible, and finding out how to make it so even trickier.
There are a few lamentable moments where I have actually to re-rule a few sections to make it a bit harder-namely the Statue bit. Why oh why in other hard books are you unable to strike a Gargoyle or suchlike with a sword but you can down here? Especially as it concerns an important ally whom you wouldn't be able to communicate with otherwise. He also makes it unclear about whether you can flee with the Crown without even having to fight it-which I never do. Basically, if you're not prepared to fight and destroy Statue, you can't have Jade Crown! Steve also doles out tidal waves of STAMINA, SKILL and LUCK points, making all the other authors look like real meanies, but he overdoes it, not least in a book where ALL your faculties can go over their Initial scores-most books won't even let you have one! Also the trapdoor should only be opened if you roll under your current STAMINA as it should be too heavy-it's hiding important stuff, and it shouldn't be spied in the paragraph leading you from the building if you've not searched! Plus I don't know what kind of sicko he thinks the hero is, but many denizens down here are real peaceful and wouldn't strike you with a shingle of shell hell if you didn't have options to attack all and sundry! Of course you don't have to do it-you'd be a worse monster than anything you encounter that way! And if anyone ever has the sick gall to attack the Dolphin (?!) I put in you lose 2 LUCK points for such an evil act, as the text did not-not that I'd ever do such a thing anyway, but you get my driftwood (sorry). So I have one of the Toolfish-the Borer-as long as I got one in the first place (!) to attack the Statue, otherwise you break your sword on it, but the Borer Fish has to win, so they fight which I do it myself and if Borer baby loses, I have to leave the Statue. But that's life. Still a massive compliment to the book that I should need to do this to make it harder. Swiftly as you can make it through, completing 'Demons' properly is harder if you're doing it right. Unlike any other gamebook, this is beautiful, fun and different, and if only there had been a follow up. That amazing Bone Demon on the front-you don't even have to fight him if you're lucky, in fact he's almost impossible to find in the first place. Now that IS interesting. There's also some perfect death scenes, though Steve missed out by not ensuring that if you're attacked by more than one poisonous creature in a row, you die immediately, which I do. There's also a wonderfully clever death section involving a trident, and the possibility of being turned permanently into a fish, if you're stupid enough, plus a weighty necklace you put on at your peril, a death tunnel to starve in, and an unwelcome whelk-coming (sorry) on a pirate isle. But best of all it also splashes up one of the funniest death paragraphs ever written too:
(*SPOILER for some-beware*) = should a certain cutesy Ogre attack you and imprison you so long that your magic gills disappear as the sun goes down:
"You cannot find a way out of the Sea Ogre's prison, though you exhaust your strength in the attempt. Eventually the spell wears off: your gills vanish and you drown. The Ogre is surprised when he returns and finds you dead, but he eats you anyway." Finny as hell.Class-ic! And not even a weak ultra obvious "your adventure ends here" to kill it dead. Perfect. No wonder I used all my bubbles laughing so hard. The Ogre in the illustration looks so damn cute, and interesting he should be present when only Sea Trolls were described in 'Out Of The Pit' and 'Titan'. And no Sea Elves, though we have a Sea Sprite. Even a little old Wizard lives under the water, and a Sea Hag, also very hard to meet. And a great illustration. As for the Deep Ones, I've always regarded them as Sea-Fish men, as opposed to the Fish-Men of inland rivers (see 'Forest Of Doom') and their appearance in this book further strengthens that-Sea Trolls they are not, despite this being used as a term in 'Out Of The Pit' but a wrong one. It's very Cthuhulu in fact, yet they're also friendly, and not described as Trollish at all-the Sea Ogre would naturally be more akin to Sea Trolls, but he's also nothing like the only Sea Giant I've ever seen either in 'Stealer Of Souls', making me think this book had such possibilities for other marine adventures, but therein lies the difficulty in waves (sorry) of thinking of another plot to fashion, and as unlike this one as could be. But I reef-ly think they should have cut corals and tried. It weed have been an enjoyably challenging and different brainstorm at least, and maybe a new author could really have kelped (sorry for all four in a row that time,but what can I see, I'm deeply in the deep here).
This was written by the American Steve Jackson (no relation) and even better than the charming 'Scorpion Swamp', though like that one it intriguingly does not feature paragraph 400 as the true ending, but is a little harder to win thank God. Best book of a great series I will always retain a load of affection for, not least getting me into Warhammer miniatures, Heroquest, Dungeons & Dragons and so on. An adventure like no other, dive in and sea. You won't be fishappointed.