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The Ring, the Sword, and the Unicorn

Series: Fantasy Forest #1
Author: Ward, James M.
Illustrators: Easley, Jeff (cover)
Macari, Jr., Mario D. (interior)
Release Date: October, 1983
ISBN: 0880380594 / 9780880380591
Length:76 pages
Number of Endings:10
User Summary: You wander into the forest behind your house, determined to prove that it is magical.
Demian's Thoughts: This is probably the weakest book in the series. It doesn't really have much to do with its fantasy setting since it starts off in the present day, and while it has a variety of short adventures in it, none of them are particularly satisfying.

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KenJenningsJeopardy74's Thoughts: Compared against other interactive juvenile stories, The Ring, the Sword, and the Unicorn reads similarly to the Bantam Skylark Choose Your Own Adventure books. The brevity of those volumes usually means that none of the story paths last long enough to fully develop a plot, though in The Ring, the Sword, and the Unicorn, most of the adventures come to definite conclusions instead of drifting toward an unresolved continuation of the story there just wasn't room to include. Curiously, while this book is about twenty-five pages longer than a Bantam Skylark Choose Your Own Adventure, it felt shorter to me, and I'm not sure why. In any case, this first Fantasy Forest book I've ever read (also my debut foray into the world of Dungeons & Dragons literature) was an enjoyable experience: a nice, short fantasy story that's easy to absorb and not very challenging to reach a good ending in, since there are no real bad endings. For young readers experimenting with gamebooks, The Ring, the Sword, and the Unicorn seems a decent place to start, offering the adventure of high fantasy, including fire-breathing dragons, without the threat of being maimed or charred in the story if the reader makes an errant choice.

After having to listen for so long to your older brother and sister scorn your persistent notion that the forest behind your house is filled with magic, you decide to hit the trail and prove your instinct right. You've had the sense from the beginning that there was magic in these woods; it's just a feeling you have, the incontrovertible sensation as soon as you step within their outer limits that the woodlands are soaked in enchantment. Only a short walk is required before the path ahead diverges into three distinct areas, with a sword lying on the ground in the distance of one path, and an ornate ring down the second. A unicorn, identical to how you've heard them described in myth, gallops past you down the third path, and here you are, on the brink of proving your beliefs about this forest once and for all.

The question is, which road should you take to find that proof? Going after the ring will lead you to a strange-looking castle, and you may wind up in the middle of a sorcery battle between a wizard and an unsavory green creature. Setting off after the sword brings an encounter with a gallant knight, interested in helping you prove the reality of enchantment to your siblings and keeping you safe from the bad guys that pop up in fantasy lands occasionally. Considering the dangers he averts on your behalf, you're probably lucky to have found him. Following the unicorn trail provides the most story possibilities, and also in my opinion the best ones, as you're grafted by the kindly, noble creature of legend to help search for its three unicorn offspring. Here's where you get a brief chance to tour the fantasy kingdom you so strongly believed was waiting in your backyard, and the overview is one of the better sections of the book. With a unicorn on your side, even encounters with deadly dragons can't go too wrong; your unicorn won't let anything happen to you while you're helping find her babies, and though there are endings in which you don't find the lost young ones (yet are assured they will be found after The End), the most rewarding ending comes when you figure out where the little unicorns are being detained, and reunite them with their worried parent. As nice as it is to visit a fantasy land and do battle with knights, wizards, glandular spiders, and dragons, it doesn't get any better than knowing you've done some lasting good while you were there. And the unicorn, methinks, won't leave your selfless deed unrecompensed.

The Dungeons & Dragons franchise is known for deeply involved, complex gameplay, but The Ring, the Sword, and the Unicorn is nearly as simple as gamebooks get, the only mild deviations from the typical two-choice format being a couple of three-choice junctures. The huge, vicious spiders that hide in caves and set traps for unsuspecting victims is one of the more interesting aspects of the story. You never know when one of the spiders will leap out at you, all thick, sticky webbing and fangs. Judging from the tiny bones strewn about the spiders' hunting grounds, you can guess many other human children have been their victims, and I can't blame you for being spooked by that. Whereas even the dragons feel relatively tame in The Ring, the Sword, and the Unicorn, the spiders are a different beast. Watch out for those things. As I mentioned in paragraph one of this review, however, there are no real bad endings, so even the threat of the spiders doesn't go much beyond unpleasant appearances. Overall, I thought this was an unspectacular but pretty good book; the narrative makes clear sense and the story is nice, and that can't be claimed about all gamebooks. Fantasy Forest isn't among the most famous gamebook series, but think about giving it a try if you want to share the love of interactive fiction with beginning readers. Whether reading it to others or oneself, The Ring, the Sword, and the Unicorn is a fun book that's easy to enjoy.

More reviews by KenJenningsJeopardy74

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