There was once a time when all books were far too linear. Who decided what happened? Why the author of course.
The great and the good decided that this just should not be and took steps to make the reader the hero, the one who made the decisions, the one who lived or died (the latter more often than not).
So the gamebook came into being.
And the invention of gamebooks was greeted with great excitement by children and teenagers looking for something a little different. In the UK the gamebook reached the peak of its popularity during the 1980s with the Fighting Fantasy series. Beginning with The Warlock of Firetop Mountain in 1982, titles followed at regular intervals and the craze spread worldwide like wildfire.
What are gamebooks? For those of you who are left nonplussed rather than misty-eyed with nostalgia by their very mention here is a brief explanation. Gamebooks are a work of fiction that allows the reader to participate in a story by making choices that affect the course of the narrative, which branched down various paths using of numbered paragraphs or pages. Dice were integral to the gameplay, initially to help establish stamina, luck and strength values and then to determine the outcome of battles and key-events.
Jasan Barnett’s Invitation to a Feast is a gamebook that is aimed at a slightly younger audience than the aforementioned Fighting Fantasy (8-12 year olds) than the Fighting Fantasy series and thereby far less gruesome and violent. In the gamebook you take the role of a young rabbit, Jumpster, who has received his first ever invitation to the annual feast of the caretaker of Woodland Forest. Jumpster soon discovers, however, that it will take more than just turning up in order to be gained entry. His invite is actually a test which he must pass before being permitted to enjoy the delights of the day. And so the adventure begins.
Invitation to a Feast is very well constructed, containing detailed and clear instructions and everything about the gamebook’s layout is precise and shows excellent attention to detail. An additional nice touch is the printing of a die on each and every page which allows the reader to flick through the pages simulating the roll of a die. I, for my part, downloaded an app for my iPod Touch which simulates the throw of the dice (and also helps you avoid losing your page – highly recommended if you do not have the real thing).
And so, armed with my IPod dice, a pencil and an eraser I began my adventure…
Things take a while to get started and for a while you are simply reading page by page as you would in a conventional book. After 10 or so the time for decisions arrives. Unfortunately my luck just wasn’t in and my choices and casting led to Jumpster:
Failing to catch a robin redbreast egg as it fell from a tree;
Unable to avoid a confrontation with a mean-spirited red fox;
Have enough wits to prevent a wicked weasel from stealing the prized invitation (without which I could not enter the Feast).
So, after this less than impressive start I began to play it safe, taking no chances, keeping to the path and aiming to avoid trouble… But yet another erroneous decision led to my little bunny being surrounded by the most vicious woodland animals imaginable and without the necessary energy (thanks to previous encounters) to make a successful bid for escape. And so, after about an hour from start to finish, it was game over as Jumpster made the ultimate sacrifice in order to keep the circle of life turning.
It was an enjoyable experience for me as an adult and so I would confidently say that a reader aged between 8 and 12 would gain even more from the journey. Parents will find that a book of this type will encourage decision making and lateral thinking in their child and the narrative will help form an understanding of both the beauty and the harshness of woodland life, as shown in the following extract from the book:
“The egg dropped past Jumpster’s paw, struck the earth and broke open. Mrs Redbreast gave a chirp of dismay and started to weep, tiny tears rolling down her red cheeks. “All three of my eggs were stolen last spring by Mrs Slither the snake. She deceived me and took them from my nest. Now this spring, I have lost one to the wind!”
The book has many plus points and I would add to those already listed above the nice font that is used and the clear layout which make it easy to both read and follow. The minus points are that it takes slightly too long to get to the dice and decision making stage and that the accompanying illustrations arguably detract rather than add to the adventure.
I will be sitting down with my daughter one night (she is 4) and reading through the book with her and allowing her to make the decisions and roll the dice. I’m looking forward to it and I think that a book of this type can also be good for parent/child bonding. I will add an update to this review to let you know how it all panned out…
Fantasy Book Review recommends Invitation to a Feast to readers aged from 8 to 12 who are looking for a story in which they make the decisions that really matter.
Invitation to a Feast, the first book in the Woodland Forest Chronicles, is JP Barnett’s first gamebook and was published in late 2007. He is currently writing three more gamebooks, two of which will form part of the same series, with a view to publishing them in 2011.
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