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Item - Black Vein Prophecy


Series: Fighting Fantasy (1982-1995, Puffin) — no. 42
Translated Into: L'ancienne proph├ętie (French)
Authors: Mason, Paul
Williams, Steve
Illustrator: Oakes, Terry
Date: July, 1990
ISBN: 0140340572 / 9780140340570
Length: 400 sections
aehalpin's Thoughts: (review recovered from Yahoo Groups contribution I made in 2004)

This review is spoiler-soaked, but, as a rule you should never believe anything you read.

BVP has an undeniably alien feel to it. To be honest, it feels completely foreign to the world of Titan. In my opinion, that's no bad thing at all, and that's what made the additions to Titan fun. Other authors have brought in different genres and settings before and this book certainly continues in that 'vein,' if you'll pardon the pun!

The book is set in the exotic, and at that point unexplored, Isles of the Dawn. I believe that the Titan compendium had already hinted that the Isles were a peculiar place. No kidding. In this book, you assume the role of an unknown, with no memory but the odd snippet that comes occasionally to mind. You awaken in a tomb, and your journey of self-discovery begins there. As you pass through the book you must collect objects that will ease your passage, which is pretty standard for FF. The acquisition of powers such as 'harmonization' or 'disruption,' however, is an interesting diversion and adds to the book's abstract feel.

Eerie and unrecognisable landscapes and protagonists flash by. Something of both the orient and Europe influences the book, both in character/place names and illustrations. Overall though, the feeling given is one of utter uniqueness and unfamiliarity. That's disquieting, but intriguing and very welcome.

The book is light on required combat and if you play it on common sense choices, you stand a good chance of getting through it. There is, however, one large random spanner in the works here. You must fail a luck roll to complete the book. This feature, it seems, thumbs its nose at cheats! Such miscreants would obviously be lucky all the time, and therefore unlucky overall! In my opinion, this also makes the book very hard, and short of exhaustive repeated 'option scanning,' it does make the solution a little obscure. A little pointer in the paragraphs, or on the back of the book saying "Unlucky you..." or something like that might have helped.

This is all especially frustrating, given that the roll takes place when the character's luck would be at its strongest. On the positive side, however, it did mess with the boundaries of FF a little. Certainly, if you look at the story as a whole, the hero would indeed have to be unlucky to find himself in the situation he does at the beginning of the book... and maybe that's the point!

As far as other interesting tidbits go, there is also a "Turn to 400" reference that is pure masquerade, and quite delightful, now that I attempt a deconstruction-based perspective! Never fear, child... 'Panurge' will lead you from your ill-considered expectations of victory... How appropriate, Mr. Mason.

A cameo from one 'Riddling Reaver' is also hinted at. If it is he, he's only recognisable from his camp demeanour and habit of talking useful/less gibberish. Terry Oakes had illustrated him here and he seems slightly more "rakish" than before. Maybe a touch of Errol Flynn about him, I felt! I certainly didn't even spot him back in the year the book was published. This 'same, yet different' encounter adds to the air of unfamiliarity and dream-like quality, which permeates the setting as a whole.

The final battle with the villain is fairly difficult (the chief difficulty being sufficiently prepared), and the whole book leads up to it. It takes a little intuition and replaying to work out why, although he's the preferred heir, he presumably escaped the tomb seemingly in full possession of his memories and with foreknowledge of his mission. It's not obvious. Reading Paul Mason's explanation of the workings helped greatly, once I'd finished the book and pretty much finished the review. One thing I still don't understand is how you're supposed to know what powers to use, and in exactly what order. It's not really apparent from their description. This could be down to random chance. Oh well...

There's a lot of instant death paragraphs about towards the end...

If my understanding of the genesis of the brothers Maior and Feior is correct, your character starts the adventure as essentially a child in a man's body. I imagine that the lower-than-usual Skill score represents this in some way. I would have enjoyed more clues to this effect throughout the book and some reference to the implications. Even if they'd been cryptic, they would have been appreciated. This would have possibly added to the sense of revelation when the machinations of Bezenvial are revealed in flashback. By this time, on my original read back in '90, I seem to remember I was thoroughly and utterly confused!

The victory paragraph would've probably benefited the book by explaining a little more about the history of the missing 50 years, the foundation of the claim to the throne by the Child-King, 'Poo-Ta,' and the mechanics of how the brothers grew up, whilst being effectively dead. Still, in drama, sometimes it's what you don't know, or see that holds more power because of its absence. There's a certain famous filmmaker who should remember this when he feels compelled to tinker with his own work, to perfect his vision!

In summary... The writing is evocative. The book is strange, yet refreshing and complex. Difficult, yet rewarding. In certain places it is also maddeningly frustrating, and definitely not one for the casual reader, which was probably the intention. Full marks to Terry Oakes for his illustrations, which greatly enhanced the enjoyment I took from the book.

-- Alan Halpin (aehalpin)

More reviews by aehalpin

Errata:Section 325: "note down the number '152'" > note down the number '325'.
Special Thanks:Thanks to Nicholas Campbell for the cover scan and Ben Nelson for the character sheet.
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