By this point in the Lone Wolf series, I have noticed something. The 'previously in Lone Wolf' and the entire first number are utterly massive. The text goes into an almost absurd amount of detail on the world and its current events, to the point where it's frankly no surprise that the series amassed so many ardant fans.
Sadly I'm feeling real lazy, so I glance over it. Cliff notes version - big bad steals magic crystals. Lone Wolf dresses his best friend Banedon up as him and sends him off as a distraction while Lone Wolf runs off to steal the first gem. Nice chap, Lone Wolf.
Said lorestone is in the city of Torgar, and after many paragraphs of travel we arrive at two possible routes to the city. We could go and find a crazy man in order to sneak through and island of blithering evil madness, no doubt populated by elder things. Or we could ride off with a Prince in order to carve a bloody swath through the darklord's army in order to get to Torgar. I'm really in no mood to go on a day trip to Ry'leh, but I'm sure that my readers would love to see Lone Wolf riding off into the romantic sunset with a handsome prince, so we choose that.
It really doesn't take too long before the Prince has taken me to the forefront of the army, and introduced me to the chap in charge of reclaiming Torgthingy from the forces of wickedness - King Someone. I'm sorry, really, I just don't have a spare piece of paper to note down everyone's names.
The King immediately asked if I, as a Kai, would sneak into the enemy's territory and spy on them. Given that Kai are essentially a mix between rangers of the north and ninjas, I wasn't going to say no. The book threw a few alert guards that might cause a fuss, but because I'd completed the lore circle of Solaris, hiding in the shadows was almost effortless. The next morning, King Whusisname was delivered a full report of the enemy's numbers.
And so the next morning, a great big bloody massive battle erupts. We have twice as many men as the enemies specifically so that their wizards can blow them all up with reckless abandon, and the enemy have wizards that chuck lightning at us because they're gits. We marshall our forces and push into the fray, with big clashing fight sequences aplenty. At the battle rushes on, a wounded soldier who I save from certain death gives me one of his old medals.
For a moment, I think that there's an actual lack of any apparant combar sequences in this battle, all of the narrative thus far having been determined just by character choices. It's actually a very impressive battle, feeling both very tense and extremely dangerous. Eventually we do run into some combat, first against a generic mook (who, I note, would have actually been quite a challenge if this had been far earlier in the series) and then against a magic-tossing Helgedad called a Ziran.
After hacking my way through a Hammerlanding (which I assume to be a man from Hammerland, where they make the Lone Wolf universe's supply of carpentry tools), we push across a great bridge. We are then treated to a sequence in which Lone Wolf runs around blasting enemies with his bow in a manner vaguely similar to a less CGI version of Legolas. The narrative then picks me up and throws me headlong into a fight against someone called the Baron, whose stats are freaking insane, in no small part thanks to the fact that he carries around a giant bugger-off flaming axe that would convince any D&D group that their GM was very, very angry.
So, after being kicked into all kinds of horrible shapes and left truly beaten black and blue, my endurance score down to single digits and those digits being very low ones, the Baron decides to show mercy and snuffs it. My handsome prince rides up, thanks me for my effort, and tells me that I'm now free to bugger off to continue my search for the lorestone. I trek across the lands, carefully evading an enemy ambush, using my skills to live off the land, until I eventually reach Torgar.
Snark and quips about it aside for a moment, the book has really held up so far. It's quality has been excellent, with a huge cast of characters already present. The worldbuilding, by this point in the series, is utterly top notch. The battle at the start of this adventure, and its ensuing trek to Torgar, feel very well realised, building easily on the dramatic pacing of the early books and using the series' skill system to its maxmimum.
One of my biggest concerns with the Lone Wolf series has been that they are generally more linear than other gamebooks, but the choice that's presented to us at the start of this one, to journey to Torgar via an evil island, gives me the impression that this issue is definitely being tackled. I'm actually rather tempted to replay this part to see how it would pan out. But anyways, onwards!
Outside the great citadel of Torgar, I meet the encamped forces of Adamas, Lord Constable of Garthen, who I've met in a previous adventurer even though I can't for the life of me remember who he was, the series is so full of NPCs. He's eager to attack Torgar and save the city and its captive inhabitants, and is very proud of a 'device' that the magi gave him which should wreck the city gates.
Said device is basically a grenade.
After a flip of a coin, Lone Wolf is designated as the man to plant the grenade, which I accomplish without a problem. Blowing a hole in the walls of Torgar, one of the villain's wizards decides to punish me by throwing a magic ball full of fire at me and the rest of our forces. Thankfully I only receive a minor wound and I'm soon able to fight my way through the garrison and into the catacombs beneath the city.
Impressively, my recently-completed lore circle of Solaris seems extremely useful in this book, as I've been called to see if I've got it three times so far. With that, I come across the only major non-combat challenge thus far in the book - a locked door. On the verge of victory, I suffer the growing realisation that I don't have any keys, having lost the skeleton key that I used to possess a few books ago. In desperation, the book asks if I have the skill of Nexus (which I don't) or, lastly, just a simple dagger to pick the lock. I look suspiciously at the Sommerswerd, certain that neither it nor my bow can count as a dagger.
Having failed to find a key for the door, I am promptly surrounded by enemy troops who blast me into oblivion with their crossbows. So close, and yet so far!
But maybe next time I'll be able to recover one of the missing lorestones? Who knows! Join us in two weeks' time for the next adventure in the Lone Wolf series, The Prisoners of Time! And also, don't forget to grab a copy of my brand new novel, the first in the dark fantasy epic "Twilight of the Faerie", out next Friday!
Lone Wolf Statistics at this point
Combat Skill – 15, Endurance – 25
Kai Skills – animal control, invisibility, divination, huntmastery, pathsmanship, curing, weaponmaster, - short swords, quaterstaff, dagger, axe, warhammer, bow, mace (+3 CS). Lore Circles - Circle of Fire, Solaris and Light (+2 CS and +8 E)
Carried in hands – Sommerswerd (+8 CS), Bow (arrows x6)
Special Items - Firesphere, Map, Crystal Star Pendant, Psychic Ring, Kazan-Oud Platinum Amulet, Silver Helmet (+2 CS), Padded leather waistcoat (+2E), Fireseeds (x3)
(If you've enjoyed this article, be sure to check out Justin MacCormack's two bestselling collections of dark fantasy stories - "Return to 'Return to Oz'" and "Cthulhu Doesn't Dance". His newest book, "Diary of a gay teenage zombie", is available now)