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The Secret of Stonehenge (Graded Reader) (Gamebook)
When Forecast from Stonehenge first entered publication in 2006, it was the firstborn offering of a new era for R. A. Montgomery and the gamebook empire he helped found decades earlier. The Choose Your Own Adventure brand was back where it belonged, available on the shelves of local bookstores so kids could once again find quality gamebook adventures even without having parents who loved the stories when they were kids and were willing to track down used copies for the enjoyment of the next generation. R. A. Montgomery was back in business, the very same author who once turned out intriguing interactive stories such as Space and Beyond, Project UFO and the scintillating Death in the Dorm. No matter how Forecast from Stonehenge turned out, whether it equaled R. A. Montgomery's best work or not, this was a win for gamebook fans. Having Choose Your Own Adventure books back in print after years of silence from the company and its founders certainly was a welcome development.
"Good thoughts yield good things. The future, no matter how dark it seems, can always change, as long as the thoughts change."
—Freya, Forecast from Stonehenge, P. 116
You are a runner and informant for a group of archeologists interested in the history behind the mysterious megalith site known as Stonehenge. When a hot tip comes in that a man named Alastair may possess an artifact of vital importance to figuring out the truth behind Stonehenge's unknown past, you are dispatched to meet Alastair close by Stonehenge and see if the item he has could actually prove useful. When you arrive on the scene, however, you find there's no direct shot to Alastair and your arranged meeting place. The area around Stonehenge has been sealed off from public access in the interest of preventing mischief, and when you find a group of apparent insiders willing to bring you close enough to have your meeting with Alastair, the whole setup seems highly suspicious. Is something magical going on around Stonehenge? Is Alastair involved with beings of dark force and purpose, souls who could kill you in an instant and wouldn't hesitate to do so should you get between them and Alastair's artifact, which they also want? In a race against time and your pursuers, entities endowed with greater magical power than you can fathom, your greatest asset may be your instinctive sense of who can and cannot be trusted. Put your faith in the wrong individual and you'll likely lose Alastair's artifact for good, and maybe your life, too. Players capable of waging war on an epic battlefield like ancient Stonehenge won't be satisfied to let you walk away with an artifact that gives you part of their power. Is there any way you can find out the truth behind Alastair's secret and survive long enough to relay the information to your superiors?
There are a number of things to like about this book. More than most of R. A. Montgomery's literary offerings, Forecast from Stonehenge includes passages written in picturesque language, actually quite beautiful at times. Instead of focusing solely on moving the action forward with every sentence, we're treated to a few pauses that allow the author opportunity to describe the sharp scent of the night air outside London, the withered leaves scraping across our path as the wind blows, the misty veil of fog as you venture further into the unfamiliar landscape of the enchanted British countryside. It's a nice change, different from most other gamebooks, and the multiple pages of story between most decisions allow a fuller narrative to be dispensed, as well as a chance to catch one's breath before proceeding to the next adventure sequence. I also like the quality of illustrations from Vladimir Semionov, who brings character to the people and places in the book by use of thick lines and ominous shading. What I like best about Forecast from Stonehenge, though, is a few sections of the story that begin to build some light suspense, demonstrating glimpses of how exciting gamebooks can be at their best. That should be enough to hook readers who are new to the idea of interactive stories, and bring them back wanting more from Choose Your Own Adventure.
I was surprised by the number of small copy-editing errors in Forecast from Stonehenge, but it's a relatively minor fix that may have been made in later printings. Overall, I had a good time with this book and will read it again, though it's difficult to find a truly satisfying ending to the story you make. There are hints at positive endings, however, even at major discoveries you could make about Stonehenge if you gain access to the right artifacts and information. Do you ever solve the entire mystery of the sacred stones? I suppose that's open to interpretation, but you certainly get to try, and isn't that what one wants from a book like this?
You can tell that a book is going to be bad when the title has little, if anything, to do with what's inside. There is no forecasting in this book. Druids, English mythology, time travel, and magic spells - yes. But forecasting? No.
Here, you travel to Stonehenge to get what you think is archaeological information, but things quickly take a turn for the worse and it's random events from there on out. Meteorology doesn't figure in the plot at all.
This, the first new CYOA book published in over a decade, proves once again that no matter how much hard he tries, R. A. Montgomery is a terrible writer. The first pages are evidence enough. Why does your character consider Stonehenge so important? Why, too, would your character pay £80 for a taxi from London when you can take a train or bus instead? And finally, why is there so much security at Stonehenge just for the summer solstice? How did Alistair (the main character apart from yourself) initially contact your friend Twig to set his meeting with you? What, exactly, is the Golden Sickle (appearantly the main item in the plot, but this isn't fleshed out too well, either) and what is its significance? None of these things are explained.
There is no explanation for why you can end up cavorting with fairies underground. There is no explanation for why, if you go through one door, you end up teleported back to the 19th century. Why your character wants to visit Mohenjo-Daro (according to Wikipedia, an ancient Indus ruin in Pakistan) and wishes for it when given the opportunity is not explained. Even more bizarre is that you're suddenly teleported there in the next page - a stupid ending if there ever was one. And this book has quite a few stupid endings - abrupt and sudden but never conclusive.
About the only thing that's changed in the 10 years since R. A. last wrote a CYOA is his verbosity. His old books - at least the ones towards the beginning and middle of the series - usually ran at a fairly brisk pace. In Stonehenge, you frequently must trudge through several consecutive pages to get to a choice.
All in all, this book is proof that old habits die hard and that you can't teach an old writer new tricks. According to the official CYOA store site, Stonehenge was "re-imagined" six times before R. A. settled on a final version - and they put it up there for the world to see like it's something to be proud of! Avoid this unless you are totally overwhelmed by curiosity, as I was.
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