You Choose: Chilling Interactive Adventures
The Winchester mansion just might be the perfect real-life setting for a gamebook. With construction on it beginning in 1884 and continuing until Sarah Winchester's death in 1922, the house grew into a behemoth of winding corridors and secret rooms, a labyrinth that became more mysterious as the years passed. In this book, you and your friend Amir, whose father owns a landscaping company, are given opportunity to work the grounds of the Winchester Mystery House. Entering the building is prohibited, but you and Amir disregard that when the thorn from a rose pierces your finger and you suffer a dizzy spell. It won't hurt anyone if you take refuge in the cool of the gigantic house for a minute, right? So that's what you do.
The ornate interior is deserted, and you and Amir can't resist having a look around. The floor plan is so extensive you could easily get lost, but that isn't a concern until you hear footsteps behind you. Do you head toward the sound, or run away or hide so you won't be caught trespassing? No option offers a clean break from your suddenly unsettling surroundings. You walk through rooms full of stained glass windows, staircases that take you in circles and sometimes lead nowhere, rooms that feel icy cold for no apparent reason or give off inexplicable odors. Secret cellars, hidden rooms with doors that lock behind you, and ghostly encounters all await in Sarah Winchester's sprawling home. Rumors have persisted since the nineteenth century that the place is haunted; Ms. Winchester believed the spirits of people killed by Winchester rifles roamed the property seeking revenge. Beware these spirits that may in fact be real, but the greatest danger may come from the ghost of Sarah Winchester herself.
Curious as you and Amir are to explore, escape is at least as important a priority. You'll hear weird sounds you want to investigate, but more often than not they lead to traps. If you end up facing a phantom, can you placate it so it won't turn on you in a murderous rage? You attempt to retrace your steps, but the only time you seem to find familiar territory is when you're going in circles. Otherwise, every room you enter seems new. Can you find your way out of this menacing manor, or can someone from the outside find you? There may be rooms that have never been discovered, and becoming trapped in them could spell doom. Whether you survive your adventure or perish at the hands of vengeful spirits depends on your knack for quitting while ahead, because the further you traverse into the house, the less likely you are to ever walk out.
Matt Doeden's writing has atmospheric moments, but what really fosters excitement in the story is the photographs of the Winchester Mystery House, exterior and interior. These images invite readers to conjure their own feelings of nervousness at the prospect of being lost inside with no clear route to escape. A good gamebook should feel like this mansion, a maze of twists and turns where the next place you go always promises something surprising, scary, and original. Certain storylines in this book are stronger than others, but the uneasiness is ever-present, and that's why it's an enjoyable read. This is one to revisit.
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