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Item - Into the Hollow Earth

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(promotional galley)
Series: Choose Your Own Adventure - The Golden Path — no. 1
Author: Montgomery, Anson
Illustrators: Taplin, Nancy (cover)
Nugent, Suzanne (interior)
Date: April 25, 2008
ISBN: 1933390816 / 9781933390819
Length: 224 pages (galley), 185 pages (hardcover) (prologue plus 20 titled chapters)
Number of Endings: 11 (7 final, 4 leading into the next book)
User Summary: The pottery fragment that you and your friends have been studying for a school project turns out to be more important than you had ever imagined, and you are soon on the run.
Demian's Thoughts:

Note: This review is based on a promotional galley; some changes may be made before publication of the final version.

It's been a good few years for gamebooks. After a long dry spell, there are an awful lot of books coming back into print, and even a few new ones being published for the first time. In spite of it all, though, my enthusiasm has been fairly minimal. My biggest criticism of the gamebook form is that it has almost never lived up to its potential, so reprinting old books and writing new ones using old formulas does little to advance the idea of interactive storytelling. I don't deny that it's good to expose a new generation to the classics, but I think it's even more important to give this new generation of readers a new generation of books. I had very little hope that The Golden Path would be anything like a representative of a new generation of gamebook, but surely I'm allowed to be wrong sometimes.

The book does not start off on a promising note, with a prologue describing the creation of the universe in a pompous and abstract manner reminiscent of R. A. Montgomery at his worst. Fortunately, things quickly pick up from there. The next two pages of the book are devoted to a map of the "United Provinces," which clearly shows that America has been through some strange times. At this point, the author could all too easily have included a long, boring explanation of the full history of the book's setting. Instead, he makes the smart choice and explains nothing more. The story begins, seemingly in a mundane fashion, but the reader already knows that something is amiss....

Once it gets going, the book is full of classic Choose Your Own Adventure themes: family members with exciting careers, a certain distinctive mysticism, freedom fighters vs. government oppression, and so on. It's not just another Choose Your Own Adventure, though. The book seems to trust the intelligence of its audience, throwing events at the reader without gratuitous exposition. This makes for a very fast and engaging read in spite of long stretches of text between choices -- the book has a lot of momentum, and the reader, like the character portrayed in the book, is simply trying to survive, only having time to stop and reflect on what's going on when it's time to make another decision.

Obviously, if you did stop and think for too long, you would realize that the plot is just as ridiculous as any classic Choose Your Own Adventure. That hardly matters, though -- I enjoy when a silly premise is executed with conviction, and there are enough serious moments to prevent the silliness from taking over. The fact that the book appears to be aimed at a slightly older audience than its parent series allows it to be a little darker than you might expect, adding to the gravity of the adventure. Things are also helped by the fact that the companion characters have distinct personalities and mannerisms and have some potential for development over the course of the series.

Of course, it's entirely possible that I'm heaping too much praise here -- the first volume is really just a tantalizing taste of what is to come, a success at least partially because it grabs the imagination without giving too much away. It's hard to tell at this stage whether the series to follow will remain so engaging once more of its secrets are out, but for now I'm going to hope so and get on with the important business of anticipating volume two.

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Dtar's Thoughts:

I couldn't help but feel this story was a bit influenced by Harry Potter. There you are, a kid who attends a boarding school. You and your two best friends from school encounter dangers while on the run from goverment bad guys.

I felt there weren't enough choices here. The book reads like a book, where you perhaps make a choice at the end of each chapter. I got through this almost 200 page book making only about a half dozen choices. I feel like I might as well have been reading a normal book. One interesting thing is the intro, which is totally "out there" and doesn't seem at all related to the story.

More reviews by Dtar

Guillermo's Thoughts:

At 185 pages, this book is considerably longer than a typical Choose Your Own Adventure. As Dtar mentions, it begins with a philosophical introduction (by R. A. Montgomery, no less) which has little to do with anything that follows. Unfortunately, things never seem to really pick up after it.

The setting is a near-future dystopia similar to the one in Escape in the main CYOA series. There is no introductory material describing it in detail; aspects of it are only revealed during the actual story. A cataclysm threw the world into disarray, changing the world's map (there are a couple of world maps included, in case you care), and a totalitarian government rules what used to be the United States (and apparently, much of Canada, Mexico, and Central America as well) with an iron fist, placing tight restrictions on the movement and activities of its citizens. You know there is a resistance movement which mostly controls what used to be Quebec (now called Quebec Libre), but you will only be drawn into it as the story progresses. This first chapter of the saga has you and your companions trying to connect with the resistance and finding a way into the hollow Earth while trying to avoid detection and capture by the security forces of the dictatorship.

Alas, the book does not live up to its interesting premise. Stretches of text between choices can be extremely long, and the pacing of the story is way too slow. There is much more exposition than actual action in the story, and reaching a successful conclusion will leave the reader with the feeling that nothing has really happened. There is some feeling of discovery from reading the book several times and exploring the game world, but the blandness of the story prevents it from being engaging. Gameplay-wise, there are some challenging choices, but completing the book and moving on to the next will only take a few of them (in one case only two), making the overall experience unsatisfying. It is interesting that the book has four widely different storylines which, if successfully completed, connect with the next book at different points. However, the tedious pacing and overall lack of interactivity prevent the idea from working. While I haven't completed the second book in the series yet, it seems to be marred by the same issues, so things do not look auspicious at this point. Overall, while this could have been a great gamebook, it ends up feeling like a wasted opportunity.

More reviews by Guillermo

Users Who Own This Item: Dtar, Erikwinslow, jdreller, katzcollection, killagarilla, knginatl (HB, promotional PB), newt3425, strawberry_brite, waktool (TBA), Yalius
Users Who Want This Item: breity, Gartax, jeremydouglass, kleme, mlvoss, nelsondesign, Nomad, ntar, Pseudo_Intellectual, vinler, zat

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