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Item - The Dream Palace

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Series: The Dream Palace
Author: Stephens, Brynne
Illustrator: Hickman, Stephen
Date: March, 1986
ISBN: 0671655574 / 9780671655570
Length: 259 pages (237 pages of regular text plus 126 instruction paragraphs)
Number of Endings: 32
User Summary: A pair of friends decide to leave their dull lives behind and go on a Quest to find their True Loves.
Demian's Thoughts:

This is a decidedly unusual book, and unfortunately an only partially successful one. While it has many merits, it has distracting flaws at every level. From a gamebook perspective, it is nearly a total failure. The idea of a book that can be read in linear order or played as a gamebook is an interesting one, but one which doesn't really work. When you make a choice, there are only three things that can possibly happen: you can skip ahead, you can double back, or you can die. None of these outcomes are satisfying. If you skip ahead, you feel that you're missing part of the story (and indeed you are -- very important segments can be easily bypassed in this book); if you die or double back, you eventually end up back at the same place anyway, so it feels rather pointless. After a while, I stopped paying much attention to the interactive elements of the book simply because there was no reason to use them. The contest aspect of the book may appeal to fans of "solve-it-yourself" mystery books (the answers to the questions are far from obvious, and left unanswered in the book), but that's really the only way one might find this to be a satisfying literary recreation.

The book fares considerably better if you read it simply as a light-hearted fantasy novel. It contains some genuinely creative ideas, and the appealing characters and occasional humor keep things pleasant. I felt that some of the characters and relationships developed far too quickly to be plausible, but I can't complain too much -- character development of any sort is rather rare in the world of interactive books. Alas, the main downfalls of the book come from its efforts to be interactive. The text is written in the present tense, and this sometimes makes it more awkward than it should be. A bigger problem is the aforementioned unanswered questions. Since the book was part of a contest, it ends with intentional ambiguity. As I said, readers who enjoy puzzling out the meanings of books will have fun working on this, but everyone else will leave this adventure feeling a little frustrated. The tale has a nice ending, but it leaves you wanting to know more. Sadly, I'm fairly certain that no sequel was ever written, nor do I know of any way to acquire the official contest answers now that it is so long over. I rarely complain when an author chooses to write a gamebook, but I think it's actually regrettable that this story wasn't given a more straightforward treatment.

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Sanselano's Thoughts:

This is a good book but it is well to understand its limitations before going into it. Since I read Demian's review before reading it, I was aware of its shortcomings up front and as my expectation was formed accordingly, I enjoyed it.

It is not really a gamebook in the traditional sense but I really enjoyed the interactive elements. Some of the writing was actually very well done to accommodate the fact that readers could reach the same place through different ways. However, there is the occasional continuity error which another round of editing should have been able to catch, one of which is fairly jarring. I noticed a couple of typos as well and I confirm the errata that Demian, presumably, put at the bottom of this webpage. However, to be fair, compared to some errors in published gamebooks, these quibbles are absolutely insignificant like that infamous giant sandworm.

As for the story, I agree that the romantic relationships occurred far too quickly to be plausible, including the one that was supposed to be the optimal relationship. The writing didn't really draw me in at first but I slowly grew to care about the two protagonists. I even found the ending to be touching. There is the occasional sexual innuendo to catch your attention, some of which were amusing and the book managed to tread a very careful path on the issue of sexual politics. However, one of the endings is strangely dark and possibly violates the legal age of consent depending where you are in the world and the overall tone of that ending made one of the protagonists quite villainous. The book pretty accurately portrays the physical allure of beautiful women to heterosexual males but disappointingly, doesn't really get into what makes true love actually work beyond just physical attraction. In a book about love, the portrayal of women could have been quite a bit more three-dimensional.

As for the rest of the story, some of the sequences were quite effective while others were not engaging. I couldn't wait to get past that faerie section. Overall I felt very positive about the story, and like Demian wrote, it did have some original ideas. On the other hand, the amount of times the protagonists sleep, eat, bathe, and consume alcoholic beverages is incredibly high. I began to forget that they could do anything else. The two protagonists are decently characterized and there is even some character development. Unfortunately, the book repeats the fact that one of the protagonists is a big man over and over again. Enough already, point taken! As for the Dream Palace itself, I was slightly underwhelmed. I was expecting a major plot twist or character revelation but the palace itself was not anything too imaginative, although my expectations were admittedly pretty high. But feet-washing? Really?

One miscellaneous thing that bewildered and vaguely amused was the acquisition of a certain item. It is possible to acquire an item that would make the protagonists virtually unstoppable and able to succeed in their quest. However if you manage to get the item, it does not help the protagonists at all, which makes no sense whatsoever.

As for the contest aspects of the book, even after reading the book in its entirety, I still don't have strong thoughts about the answer to the contest questions. Frankly, I wouldn't be surprised if the author didn't have a solution planned and would have just accepted the most creative answers submitted. Unless there is a code of some sort to crack the book or I'm missing something obvious, I have no idea what a few of the answers could possibly be. I could scour the book again and glean a better idea of how to answer the questions but why bother? Like Demian's review implied, we'll probably never know what the answers really were and it is a shame that no sequel was ever written/published. Maybe I can dream myself up a palace that contains the answers the questions. Speaking of which, I really like the cover illustration and it's a shame the illustrator didn't do any internal illustrations as they would have enhanced the story's atmosphere. I don't think the two figures on the cover are the protagonists, by the way.

Overall, I'd recommend this book. I really liked it despite its shortcomings and it generated some emotional responses and laughs. It's obvious that Demian was not impressed but as long as you know what you're getting into, it's a mostly fun read. If you are not in the mood to roll dice and write things down, this might be a good option for you.

More reviews by Sanselano

Shadeheart's Thoughts:

​[Rating: ​2​/10]
[Recommended:​ NO​] ​

​​​Very few gamebooks happen to be a truly original, one-of-a-kind experience; it could perhaps be said that "​The Dream Palace"​ by Brynne Stephens fits that image better than perhaps any other story ever written. Decidely creative with its unique interactive​ experimentation, and written with a great deal of obvious care, this is a clever book that, despite its initial mixed critical and commercial reception, has attained a unique cult classic status among 1980s epic fantasy lovers and gamebook geeks alike. With a stunning cover and fascinating presentation design - the artwork unfortunately inaccurate in depicting the protagonists - this is one of the most promising-SOUNDING books that, truly, are impossible to predict without experiencing for yourself. ​

​​Initially the "linear-novel-that's-also-a-gamebook" concept appears absolutely genius - and to an extent, perhaps it could be (at least in terms of creativity and assumed possibility). However, the design of such an arrangement is peculiarly ill-suited to the execution of the narrative it plays around with - perhaps this has to do with the limitations of gamebooks as a whole. A big-picture linear story told through breakaway moments that drive the plot - it just isn't possible. This falsely treats the reader as though his or her free will is in effect in the story, when the story as a whole is affected through the decisions (as there is just one ending that is true - as in, linear - while the interactions lead to premature, deviant negative jumps/endings that seem rather cheap and effortless).​ After all, there's a singular story being told which should not consist of "what if this or that happened" moments.​ Unusually, the accompanying third-person style is awkwardly integrated, depleting any objective immersiveness or effective storytelling (and the book reads like watching a movie/reading a screenplay more than as a novel would). ​

​​Despite itself, the narrative develops its characters rather bizarrely, is founded upon a concept that could have definitely been improved (the "seeking true loves" thing doesn't fit, feel believable or resolve itself), and features what I would consider awfully-done "romantic elements" (every character lacks sufficient depth, and the relationships are all rushed/oversimplified). It doesn't manage to integrate itself with the sword-and-sorcery fantasy backdrop very successfully either, as though atmospherically noncommitted to the surreal when the story should've embraced it. It's a story that, time and time again, trudges through repetitive sequences in routine (indeed, LOTS of bathing, eating, sleeping, drinking and glaring after sharing sentences or jokes), and as a consequence the story feels more like a chore than anything! Oddly, the story seems to acknowledge on its own how Watkin and Kym outstay their welcome; I do wish all of the characters, especially the side characters, were more meaningful since the story hints at a surprisingly intricate series of themes, only brushed upon and never fully explored or brought into perspective. Take the dream palace itself as a prime example: couldn't it have been more intimately highlighted in a philosophical way as a fantastical conjuring of dreams themselves, linking with the protagonist's insecurities since the beginning of the novel, instead of just appearing as a kind of checklist place to stop on the great quest? And - what's more - couldn't it have used ANY of the neat, otherworldly elements in ANY of the preceding chapters instead of blandly dropping off without an ounce of meaningful resolution whatsoever? ​​​

Initially when reading, I felt as though I would strongly recommend the book - that it would come together and make up for its flaws. Tragically, I find myself discouraging readers from delving into this peculiar quest - it's just not exciting, meaningful or experimentally pulled-off well enough to justify reading. It's absolutely promising, seems creative and is a prime example of what imagination can lead to - though the execution is heartbreakingly incomplete-feeling. Far from a dream-come-true story, the shallow, hollow absence of long-term enjoyability, resolution and successful interactivity lead me to avoid recommending this experimental gamebook. Trust me, I REALLY wanted to like this book (and hoped desperately it might conclude with a meditation on doubtfulness and/or loneliness, and the joys of fantasy and wonder)... it's just not a worthy quest for most fantasy/gamebook lovers. ^^ ​

(Mysteriously disappears into the shadows.)

More reviews by Shadeheart

Errata:Instruction #35 should point to page 81, not page 78.
Users Who Own This Item: Demian, Erikwinslow, katzcollection, knginatl, Shadeheart, waktool
Users Who Want This Item: exaquint, Nomad, Pseudo_Intellectual

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