This series was designed to be a Fighting Fantasy for girls; the books resemble Fighting Fantasy adventures and feature some of the same artists, but they have a blue color scheme instead of a green one. Instead of fantasy adventures, they cover a variety of genres which all have two elements in common: female protagonists and mild hints of romance. Also, while the Fighting Fantasy series features a common system shared by all of the books, these vary wildly from volume to volume. The first and last books have no special rules and don't even use dice rolls, most of the others feature some mild score-keeping and/or dice-rolling, and the fifth book has a somewhat more complex system that uses three character attributes: Luck, Energy and Confidence. Although the series wasn't a tremendous success, it does fall into a niche that no other series has exactly filled.
Gamebooks1. Star Rider
2. Riddle of the Runaway
3. Island of Secrets
4. Danger on the Air
5. Ice Dancer
Starlight Adventures is a six-book series written and published in 1985 at the height of Puffin's gamebook love affair. That they were published by the same company as Fighting Fantasy is obvious as all but Book 6 have the same sawtooth design at the top of the front cover as FF and Cretan Chronicles, only this one is light blue instead of green or orange.
The early Fighting Fantasy books contained adverts for some of the other Puffin gamebooks in the back of them, and I clearly remember the first time I completed The Rings of Kether that I read through ads for the first four Starlight Adventures gamebooks. It was obvious from these adverts that these books were aimed squarely at girls, and it is surprising that such an innovative idea never really took off, especially in view of the number of girls who read Fighting Fantasy at my primary school! Right from then, I really wanted to read these books, to see how the adventures developed. But since the books only appear to have had one print run, finding copies of them, even second hand, has proved problematic for a long time. Viva the AbeBooks site! I recently managed to acquire all six books in this series, and read through them.
The first problem I came across is that the books seem to be marketed at a different age group than the authors were writing for. To my mind, "Starlight Adventures" sounds something like Sailor Moon -- a young teenage girl who has adventures in saving the world, meets handsome boys, and learns the value of friendship. The characters in the Starlight Adventures gamebooks, however, are definitely not in that early adolescent realm of make-believe. For example, right at the start of the first book, Star Rider, you are given the opportunity to enter a pub and buy a drink. Immediately, it is apparent that the character is at least 18 years old, probably older -- a full adult. The author is obviously writing for a mid-teen audience who would have had a rather snotty view of books called something twee like "Starlight Adventures." Which is a shame, because on the whole, I rather enjoyed these books. Nevertheless, I think this mismatch must have impacted on the sales of the books.
A second problem is the covers. Oh, the covers! Perhaps Puffin's R&D department decided that to appeal to girls and young women they would need a cover in the style of every single Mills & Boon book that's ever been written. If artists Steve Jones and James Bareham ever read this (an extreme improbability), please don't take offence when I say your covers for this series were awful. I mean, really cack. I am positive the covers were a second reason why the books didn't sell too well. And while the adage that 'you shouldn't judge a book by its cover' is true, there's no reason to put the buying public to the test over it. And just what on earth is "Patrick Swayze" doing appearing on the cover of #4: Danger on the Air?
Since the books were written by seven different female authors, there's no real continuity in the series. Some books utilise stats and scores, one requires die rolls, another asks you to flip a coin at various points. Your birthdate may have an impact on how your adventure pans out. You may be asked to choose between two different mantras which will affect your adventure, or even be required to choose between two presented section links with no explanation of where they lead. There is no inventory system for any of the books. And since the series is far more firmly based in so-called "real life" than Fighting Fantasy or Lone Wolf, don't expect combat. To be honest, this didn't bother me in the slightest, since twenty-one years later, this makes the adventures stand out as different and quite unique. Also, in a couple of the adventures it is impossible to lose, regardless of the choices you make. While some may find this boring, it means that the adventure becomes more important than scrabbling around looking for loads of items with numbers stamped on them -- something of a relief, to tell you the truth!
The writing ranges from fair to good across the series, though sometimes the plot lets down what could otherwise have been an interesting adventure. In addition to this, it would seem that the authors had no prior experience in writing interactive fiction, and despite what must have been rigorous editing, this sometimes shows in problems linking between sections, but also in the structure of a couple of the adventures, which give too many superfluous options early on in the adventure but channel you to One True Ending later on. In one adventure I particularly found this annoying as I didn't want the ending that was presented! It can also seem strange that you might find yourself at the only ending in the book despite having missed many of the plot hooks, which is what happened to me when reading one of the titles.
In the adverts and blurbs for the Starlight Adventures, Romance was stressed as important and a selling point. It is interesting, then, that certain entries in the series allow the player to ignore any and all romantic overtures by the rather cardboard male characters, though others do require it to reach a successful ending. While perhaps a bit racy for certain quarters (middle America, I am looking squarely in your direction), the books are surprisingly coy and chaste, despite the predicaments the player may find themselves in. This actually works against at least one of the books, which I'll go into should I ever write a title-by-title review.
I was pleasantly surprised by the Starlight Adventures gamebook series, though a little disappointed that I only really enjoyed four of the six titles, and the two titles I had the most problems with were the ones I had the highest hopes for, based on the adverts in The Rings of Kether. A definite change of pace from fantasy combat- and inventory-oriented adventures, the Starlight Adventures series will definitely appeal to gamebook aficionados, despite being, in the words of one reviewer, "a bit sappy!"
I would love to hear the opinions of anyone else in Gamebook Land who has read any of these titles.
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