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Stealer of Souls

Series: Fighting Fantasy #34
Contained In: A Fistful of Fighting Fantasy (Collection)
Translated Into: O ladrão de espíritos (Portuguese)
Lopakodó lelkek (Hungarian)
Sjælesamlerens ø (Danish)
Le Voleur d'âmes (French)
Zloděj duší (Czech)
Author: Martin, Keith (pseudonym used by Sargent, Carl)
Illustrators: Gallagher, David (Dave) (cover)
Nicholson, Russ (interior)
Release Date: July, 1988
ISBN: 0140326588 / 9780140326581
Length:400 sections
Gamereader's Thoughts: Interestingly, this was the first FF entry penned by Keith Martin (aka Carl Sargent) – the same author who collaborated with Ian Livingstone in the Zagor Chronicles, and who's responsible for conjuring some of the (imo) stronger entries in the core FF range. I say "interestingly" because Stealer of Souls is aimless, dismal and awful – probably one of the worst FF books.

The hero is sent gallivanting to the Isle of Despair where he must rescue a venerable wizard from the clutches of the scarily named Mordraneth, who is a decidedly more sinister wizard and (if you hadn't guessed) the titular Stealer of Souls. You can't exactly expect the "Isle of Despair" to be a lively thrill-ride, but it really feels vacant, underpopulated and wholly godforsaken when you're trudging around it in search of the "Iron crypt," which is the subterranean lair where the wizard is imprisoned. Really, forget "atmospherically desolate," think "boringly desolate."

When I finally discovered the entrance to the Crypt, it felt more like I'd stumbled upon it by accident after directionless and drearily uneventful meandering in the wilderness. When you compare this to how a "wilderness walk" is handled in Tower of Destruction (also by Keith Martin), you'd wonder how both books could be written by the same person. Even though you're wading through tundra there's a sense of focus and direction stoked and maintained in Tower of Destruction which just seems to slip away, drift and trail off in Stealer of Souls.

When you venture underground, it turns out to be a mostly drab, but crazily sprawling, cave-jail. Lots of bland stone corridors, T-junctions, occasional doorways set into the rock – any one of which seems to be as rational to pass through as any other. You'll acquire little sense of orientation from the rooms themselves – you may find a heavily armoured man snoozing on a lavish bed in a luxuriously furnished room, and wonder what the Hell any of this is doing down here. Many Items – silver rings, amulets etc. are picked up only for the sake of picking them up.

I know that's in some ways just the nature of a dungeon crawl. And you can overlook this in earlier entries, but Stealer is book 34. There's frequently little sense of any considered choice being made - at times I felt like a wandering junk collector rather than a purposeful adventurer. And some of the entries in the book are written with such ultra-minimal and bare-basic prose (yes, even by FF standards) that you feel as if the narrative has just dropped away - as if you could've just arrived at this paragraph from absolutely anywhere else in the book.

Is the book all bad? No. Stealer has the distinction of being one of the few Fighting Fantasy books that you can reasonably complete on your first try, happily without getting instant death'ed... repeatedly. The enemy skill scores are confined to modest levels: usually 5 to 8, and never above 10. Also, when you liberate the jailed wizard, he'll offer you a choice of spells you can learn – almost feels like levelling up of a sort, and adds a nifty little touch of character progression and reward.

But Keith Martin/Carl Sargent's other contributions are much better: Night Dragon, Tower of Destruction, Master of Chaos are far more enjoyable fantasy romps (I've noticed Night Dragon regularly appears among fan favourites). Stealer of Souls is strictly for the collectors imo, and for readers who are nostalgic diehards for olde-tyme pulp-fantasy dungeon crawls.

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Special Thanks:Thanks to Nicholas Campbell for the numbered cover scan and to Brett Easterbrook for the unnumbered cover scan.
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Play Aid

Fighting Fantasy #34 Character Sheet