Written by Keith Martin, artwork by Russ Nicholson.
The inside cover has a map of the Isle of Despair, with such interesting landscapes as a swamp, a lake, a forest, some hills, and a bunch of mountains. No cities, no massive rips in the fabric of space and time, nothing like that. The book also boasts no additional stats or systems from the standard Fighting Fantasy set, just the skill, stamina and luck scores. Lastly, this copy I'm reading used to belong to a kid called Sam Rayner. Sam, if you're out there, leave a comment and you can win a prize. (the prize is nothing).
The book opens with your character being given his quest by a big high muck-a-muck who tells you to go and fetch the kidnapped wizard, and then you're packed off onto a ship to sail to the Isle of Despair, which I will henceforth refer to as The Isle of Somewhat Unhappiness. Mid-journey, a giant blackbird swoops down from the sky, which I promptly kill. Hope it wasn't an albatross.
The giant also gives me three meals to take with me, which makes me very happy (remember, each meal restores 4 stamina points, so that's a lot), but the very next paragraph tells you that the damp has ruined two of them, rendering the entire gesture rather frustrating instead. The road then splits into two paths, and I pick the path that has less mud on it, because I don't much fancy getting stuck in a swamp and eaten by Gollum.
We trudge on for a while until we eventually find a cave to sleep in for the night. While checking it out to make sure there are no horrible monsters, a poisonous centipede bites me. But it's evidently not too poisonous, because it only causes 2 points of damage, rather than a lingering death or anything.
When I notice that the imp in question is trying to steal my Generic Loot (tm), I'm given the option of just letting the imp go, or murdering him in cold blood. Which seems a bit harsh, even for my standards. I immediately have a moral dilema. Should I risk losing whatever reward the imp will give me for sparing his life, purely so that I can indulge my urge for mindless butchery? I decide to let the imp go, and he gives me some luck powder in return.
Soon I come to another crossroads, this one with a signpost. I follow the one which has a large deathly skull on its sign, which eventually leads me to a small cottage. There are two hobgoblins knocking seven shades of excreta out of each other in the garden, which causes me to do what any sane person would do in this situation - get some popcorn and enjoy the show.
Questioning the logic of the hobgoblins is, of course, pointless, so I simply talk to the old man and he tells me that I should ask the local tribal leader about the scroll I found earlier. The book then guides me straight back to the signpost at the crossroads, and tells me in no uncertain terms to pick another path.
Heading south this time, I find the tribe of forest-dwellers that the old man mentioned. Their leader offers to sell me a few items in exchange for the Generic Loot I got earlier, so I hand over the Loot and get a key, rope, and some white oil. I talk to the leader about the scroll, and he explains that the poem written on it is about an ancient nasty monster thingy called the Stealer of Souls, and that if I hear it singing, I should avoid it. Hmm, good to know.
Despite the house being decorated with skulls, alters to the dark gods, and generally looking like Ed Gein's holiday home in the Algarve, I'm told that I need to sleep there for the night. My sleep is interrupted by nightmares (no, really? But it's such a nice house!) which are so bad that they cause me to take three points of damage, somehow. Anyway, the next morning I find a trapdoor in the house, and follow the stairs down until I find the entrance to the Iron Crypt, the place I've been searching for on this island... wow, that was convenient!
The book then decides to correct this by throwing me into a maze. Urgh. Think you all know how I feel about mazes. I stumble around blindly for a while, killing ogres and snakes and random generic skeleton monsters. This goes on for a while. Soon, I stop even noting down which tunnel I've taken, because they all blur into one another, such is the way of mazes in this type of book.
Having then deciding to completely screw me over, the book describes a chamber in the maze as having 'sound' coming from it, so I head in to investigate, and am promptly eaten by the Stealer of Souls. No, the description didn't say 'singing', because if it did, I wouldn't have gone in. It said 'sound', which could have been anything, from the sound of goblins marching around in circles, to the sound of a baby eating a cat.
This book was... it was definitely a book. It had a cover, and it had words, and the words were printed on paper, so it was definitely a book. That's the most remarkable thing I can think to say about it, really. I wish I could say more, but there's just so little to say. I'd suggest reading Michael Moorcock's Stealer of Souls book from his Elric series, but I'm afraid that one would put me to sleep too. And if you want that, why not just watch the first Star Trek film? That's guaranteed to put you to sleep! In fact, I think I'll go and watch that right now....