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Item - The Good, the Bad, and the Undead

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Combined Summary

Series: Miscellaneous Works by Ashton MacSaylor and Jamie Thomson
Authors: MacSaylor, Ashton (pseudonym used by Saylor, Ashton)
Thomson, Jamie
Illustrator: MacSaylor, Callie
Dates: June 1, 2018 (hardback)
April 17, 2019 (paperback)
ISBNs: 1909905313 / 9781909905313 (hardback)
190990533X / 9781909905337 (paperback)
Length: 301 sections
hadlee73's Thoughts:

The Good, the Bad and the Undead by Ashton MacSaylor and Jamie Thomson is a difficult book to qualify. It is an interactive title like the gamebooks of old (without a dice-based system; this is choices only) but it also seeks to be an engaging and well-written novel. Unfortunately, while it succeeds definitively in one area, it is left lacking in the other. A brief warning: some of what I have written below may be construed as a spoiler regarding the structure of the book even though it won't be spoiling any key plot points.

To begin with, this book is very well-written and reads closer to a traditional novel than most gamebooks/interactive fiction on the market. The characters are well developed in a short space of time, and there are several shades of grey with their flaws and motivations often taking a front seat in how they react to what is happening in the main story. The overall tale focuses on a small group of individuals who, for their own reasons, visit a town which has fallen out of contact with neighbouring districts. As the title and cover of the book implies, there is an unfortunate undead problem in the town, of the vampire variety (not zombies). It falls upon our heroes to deal with this conundrum, though they will be consistently sidetracked by their own personal issues and motivations.

This is one area of the book that some gamebook fans may take issue with. The story leaps between different characters repeatedly, with the reader making choices for each of them. There is no second person perspective here where 'you' are placed in the storyline, and some readers may find that this fails to immerse them into the atmosphere. Depending on your choices while reading, you may even miss entire scenes with some of the characters, coming across them later on in the story after something bad has already happened to them; the reader really doesn't have much control over which character the story switches to at any given time.

This leads me to my second problem, and I found this one a bit more soul-destroying than the first. SPOILER warning: there is no plot revelation here but I will briefly talk about the mechanics of the book, and for some this may ruin their experience.
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The interactive portion of this book doesn't work as well as it should for one very simple reason: most of the choices you make in the book mean absolutely nothing and have no influence on what happens in the story at all. I mapped out this entire book (as I do for all gamebooks), and found you will repeatedly be given a choice of something to say or do, and will then be pushed back to the main route with that last choice having literally no influence over anything. So you'll make a choice, bounce off to a description, and then be forcibly hurled back to the main channel, following a series of diamond-shaped decision trees for most of the book. In the latter stages of the story, well over two thirds of the way through, the tree suddenly branches out into several directions, allowing for more freedom to influence the story. I don't know if this was a direct result of having two writers on board, or whether it was just a design decision, but it goes a long way to saving the interactive aspect of the book which up to that point had been entirely pointless. Unfortunately, once you have branched off to one of two unique paths (that lead to several different epilogues depending on who lives and who dies) you will suddenly be faced with several consecutive sections where absolutely no decisions are offered up at all, leading to reading from one section to another as if this was a regular novel. In fact, I can't help feeling this book may have been originally written to be a novel and was only modified into an interactive tale afterward, though that isn't based on any fact that I know of; it's just the way the book made me feel.

So, in summary, a riveting story involving interesting characters with good background development that will make you either care for them or hate them, while the interactive aspect left me disappointed due to its lack of influence on anything for most of the book. If I were to rate this as a novel for sheer enjoyment factor alone I'd give it five stars, but if I was asked to rate it just as a gamebook/interactive fiction title, I'd be forced down to two stars. Altogether, I can give the book the benefit of the doubt and will rate it four stars (rather than middling out at three), simply because it was still an amazingly engaging story to read and that to me is what saves the book from mediocrity.

I can highly recommend this book for its story alone, but don't go into this expecting a heightened level of interactivity, or you may end up sorely disappointed.

More reviews by hadlee73

Users Who Own This Item: hadlee73, juski (hardback), mir1812 (Special Edition), mlvoss, Sir Olli (hardback)
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Known Editions

hardback
paperback

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