This is another of my 'car boot sale' books, because when I was a kid my grandparents would drag me around each and every car boot sale in the whole of Scotland, and digging through boxes of children's fantasy books in the hopes of finding a good Fighting Fantasy I hadn't played yet was the only way I could fend off the growing boredom.
I remember very little about this one, except that it involved a large underwater kingdom which you could explore, and that you had to find some black pearls. As I learned in the video game Ultima 7 some years later, black pearls are phenomenally rare, but still only slightly more expensive than garlic.
We start out as a sailor, who is possibly the unluckiest sailor in the world. He has a luck score of only 7. Also, his ship is raided and he got captured by pirates, who kill his entire crew and then throw him overboard into the ocean by the evil Captain Bloodaxe-chopper-thingy. Which is pretty unlucky. I'll call him "Chuck the Unlucky Sailor".
But when Chuck gets to the ocean floor, he discovers that he is surrounded by a great ruined city. And can breath water. A friendly mermaid swims up and explains to him that since he landed in a magical courtyard, he can breath underwater for a full twenty-four hours. She gives me a lucky charm, which is sure to off-set my terrible luck score somewhat, and tells me to seek out the black pearls.
Once the mermaid swims away and leaves me to my own devices, I stumble around the cliff-side for a while and fight a moray eel. Satisfied that I'm not going to suddenly drown, I head off into the main ruins of Atlantis. I swim down towards one of the large domed buildings, to find that it is indeed still occupied. A few armed guards offer to introduce me to their king, the great King Seamoss.
King Seamoss seems a decent sort, and agrees to help me in my quest. But first, he makes me fight his royal gladiator, a Deep One called Sharkscale, and this makes me marvel at the idea of being surrounded by Deep Ones. Very Lovecraftian. Anyway, I beat up the gladiator a while, which proves my strength to King Seamoss. He promises to help me, and the book tells me that while he does so, 'a fishy doctor examines you'. Urrr, not sure if I want that...
With the promise of help from King Seamoss, I leave his palace and explore the rest of Atlantis. I quickly locate a ruined sea galleon, and decide to explore the wrecked ship. As I head over to it, a giant clam damn near bites my leg off. I stab it, but it seems to have a guardian companion, a sea spider, which I fight with for a while. The clam has a silver pearl - not a black one, a silver one.
It's been a rather odd adventure so far, but it suddenly takes a turn for the bizarre when I find the next area includes a small wooden house. Not an undersea house, a normal one. In a big protective bubble. An old man and a cat live there. Please note that I've said it's a wooden house, and not a pineapple under the sea. That would be silly. I head inside and talk to the old man, a wizard called Greylock. He tells me that because I haven't found any black pearls yet, my quest for revenge on the pirates is probably already doomed to failure.
Out of what I suspect to be pity for me, he makes me a potion that'll turn me into mist. He then strongly advises that, because I suck so badly at gathering black pearls, I should go and see if I can get the Sea Dragon on my side. I think this is a damn good idea, so Greylock creates a tunnel that will set me in the right direction.
I follow the tunnel for a while and eventually find a powerful, trident-wielding merman. I get chatting to him, and he tells me that as long as I am not one of the Deep Ones, we can be friends. I assure him that I'm not a Deep One, and he shows me around the caves, suggesting I try out the warm spa. I.... don't know how you can have a spa underwater, but there is one anyway. I try it out, and it makes me feel like a new man. A totally new man. I re-roll all of my stats. This is pretty odd, but also a lot of fun. My stamina is a bit lower, but my skill and luck are way up.
But before I arrived at the cathedral, I managed to approach and tame a wild seahorse, by jumping on its back and riding it around the field. Given that sea horses are nothing like land horses, I can only picture this as a very entertaining sight. Still, I ride the sea horse to the cathedral, and I assume I tether it to the hitching post outside. Once I get in, I notice that the windows do indeed move. Some tell the future, others show the past. One shows a devil fish, which is very realistic. It looks like it's coming right at me. Oh wait, it is.
After the fight with the devil fish, and as I snarf down some provisions to get my stamina back up to a good level, I see that there's a window in which I feature, fighting off some horrifying tentacles. Then, suddenly, I am pulled inside a window. Looking around, I am standing beside Cyrano, a dandy swordsman fish. No, I'm not joking. He's dressed like one of the Three Muskateers, and has a rapier sword and feathered hat. And a fish's head. It's possibly the most awesome illustration I have ever seen in a Fighting Fantasy book.
Cyrano trains me in sword-fighting, in exchange for two gold coins. Before long, I am eager to get on my way, and he teleports me to a ruined wreck of a ship. The wreck is being assailed by octopus, which I bat away. The fight is much easier now, as the training has raised my skill level up higher. I assume at this point that I've been teleported too far away to meet the Sea Dragon, though.
In desperation, I head on over to a large coral reef. It's there I see what I can only assume to be the thing I'd witnessed myself fighting in the window earlier - a titanic sea Kraken. Realising that there's bound to be some great treasure in exchange for fighting this thing, I charge into battle. It's a bloody long fight, as it has thirty stamina points, and I'm down to single digits before I'm finally able to win. The book explains that I am clearly the stuff of legends, and rewards me three black pearls for my trouble.
I'm sea-wrecked, stuck in the middle of the ocean, stranded, and have no way to get to the pirates that I want to extract horrible revenge upon. Still, at least I'm alive. The book tells me that I'm sure I'll get back to land shortly. Maybe I'll run into the pirates again one day, and I can then go on a rampaging, rollicking rampage of revenge. Until then, I've got a great story I can tell the other sailors down at the Dog & Duck pub.
This is a lovely book, it really is. The atmosphere is both otherworldly and familiar. It keeps the sense of three-dimensional movement throughout, and the monsters you fight are all imaginative. Bob Harvey's artwork is really at its best here, really making all of the creatures you encounter look otherworldly. There are some major flaws to it though, mainly in lack of direction. You're never really told why the black pearls are any use, how to use them, where to look for them and so on. The best direction you're given is to talk to the Sea Dragon, which is the one piece of advice I was given in the entire book that I had a clear way to follow. I still buggered it up, though, but that's my own fault.
Despite all that, it's still a very nice adventure and it's one I could happily play through again.
(If you've enjoyed this article, be sure to check out Justin MacCormack's two bestselling collections of horror stories - "Return to 'Return to Oz'", "Cthulhu Doesn't Dance" and the young adult coming-of-age comedy "Diary of a gay teenage zombie". His newest novel, "Twilight of the Faerie", is available now)