Shadow of the Giants by Ian Livingstone — Reviewing a Newer Fighting Fantasy Gamebook

I was tempted to title this review There and Back Again and Back Again Again. So maybe you visited The Warlock of Firetop Mountain in the first Fighting Fantasy book then maybe you went back in Return to Firetop Mountain and now yet again, you find yourself returning once more when you learn about a secret treasure room that nobody else has found.  That’s where the story starts. I don’t want to give away too many details but you *might* or *might not* trigger an apocalyptic scourge that could destroy the lands and then spend the rest of the adventure trying to fix things. Okay, you can probably guess that scourge has something to do with a bunch of giants.

Shadow of the Giants is one of the latest titles in the Fighting Fantasy series of gamebooks. Steven Jackson and Ian Livingstone’s Fighting Fantasy series is celebrated for its captivating interactive storytelling and enthralling interactive adventures. If you haven’t played Fighting Fantasy gamebooks before, you will be pleasantly surprised by the interesting characters and locations as well as the streamlined mechanics that helps bridge the gap between choose-a-path types of interactive books and role-playing games (RPGs). If you are a longtime fan like me, you’ll feel right at home in this new title.

As one of the father’s of FF, you shouldn’t be surprised that Livingstone does a good job of weaving imagery and locations from the past books into this new adventure. He and Jackson each penned a new title specifically for the 40th anniversary for the gamebook line. Shadow of the Giants invites readers once again into a realm of fantasy and danger. This new installment promises treacherous quests, formidable enemies, fateful choices, and the quirky characters I have come to expect. I eagerly delved into Shadow of the Giants and found myself feeling much as I did decades ago when I first started reading them as a teenager. The text itself is well written in Livingstone’s style. I am pleased that Scholastic (the current publisher) chose to go with art by Mike McCarthy which harkens back to the original series. It’s engaging and really does add to the flavor of the whole experience. The clean line art fits in great with the original Fighting Fantasy titles unlike some of Scholastic’s other new titles; which left more than a bit to be desired.

From the first page, readers are transported back to Allansia, a fantastical realm brimming with vibrant landscapes, mythical creatures, interesting characters, and ancient lore. Firetop Mountain is the springboard for the adventure and you spend very little time there before being whisked off into the countryside visiting or re-visiting Anvil, Hamelin, the Moonstone Hills, and other locations that may be familiar from other books in the series. One of the things I always enjoyed about Fighting Fantasy was the way they built up a shared world with some common settings or themes or sometimes just Easter Eggs dropped into the various titles. You certainly don’t have to know anything about those other places to enjoy the book; but, if you do, it’s like getting a fun wink from the author.

Like other gamebooks, players assume the role of the story’s hero. Shadow of the Giants uses the same basic mechanics as all the other Fighting Fantasy titles. Characters are represented by Skill, Luck, and Stamina scores. When you run into an encounter and need to fight or test your luck, you roll two six-sided dice and add the appropriate score. If it’s higher than the target number your character is successful. There are a number of difficult encounters. Some are in situations where they are not really lethal but there are clearly places where avoiding combat is the right choice. I encountered at least one point of no return where once you go there, no matter what choices you make afterward will still end in an untimely demise for your character regardless of their scores or other choices. It has a typical 400 passages with enough choices though that you can easily replay the title a few times by making different choices.

Shadow of the Giants does a good job of carrying on the legacy of Fighting Fantasy. It offers an immersive, thrilling adventure that will captivate the imagination of longtime fans and newcomers alike. As a longtime fan of Fighting Fantasy, I wholeheartedly recommend this book to all those seeking a remarkable interactive fantasy experience. Whether you are a fan of gamebooks or fantasy fiction, or just need a little adventure to hold you over between RPG sessions, I think you’ll enjoy Shadow of the Giants. Some of Scholastic’s new titles in the line haven’t been up to the standard for the line. I hope we get enough support for better titles like this one to encourage them to move forward in this direction.

Note: Trademarks, titles, and example artwork used for illustrative and editorial purposes only. No ownership of those is claimed or disputed by Retro Roleplayer.

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