I remember the first time I encountered a Fighting Fantasy gamebook. I was actually quite late to the party. I was in the small public library in Cemaes on Anglesey and about to check out with a Choose Your Own Adventure book – of which I and my brother owned two and played regularly. The librarian recommended some other books to me. Books with amazing artwork on the cover inside and out, books with green spines and a yellow logo in the corner. I withdrew two: Trial and Champions and Robot Commando. I fell immediately in love with this range, devoured what I could from the library and bought (or had bought for me) as many as I could. I wasn’t alone: The Fighting Fantasy series went on to remain bestsellers throughout the 1980s, even beating Roald Dahl to the tops of the sales lists.
You Are The Hero is a book that delves into the rich history of the series. A series that produced fifty-nine titles in its original run, spawned countless imitators (of various quality) and saw a successful re-launch almost thirty years after its origin. Initially funded through Kickstarter, author Jonathan Green set out to produce a work that chronicled the evolving nature of the series and look back at its legacy. Here’s the publisher’s blurb:
Fighting Fantasy gamebooks have sold over 17 million books worldwide, in over 30 languages. But when Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone sat down to write The Warlock of Firetop Mountain they had no idea this one book would go on to spawn another eighty or more titles, and have an immeasurable impact on a generation of children growing up in the 1980s.
Part history, part celebration, YOU ARE THE HERO chronicles more than three decades of Fighting Fantasy. Written by Jonathan Green (author of seven Fighting Fantasy titles), this mighty tome will appeal to anyone who ever wiled away a washed-out summer holiday with only two dice, a pencil, and an eraser for company.
Green is uniquely situated to produce such a work. Not only was he a fan of the series when it launched, but he was inspired enough to submit his own books to the publishers of the range. These books were published towards the end of the series and Green has also written new adventures for the re-launched series, as well as writing other gamebooks and a series of steampunk novels. The passion he has for the series shines through the work, which also manages to be objective when dealing with Green’s own contributions.
The book is dotted with various “fighting fantasy facts” which add to the main body with snippets of information. I found these to be useful additions and fun little box-outs. Particularly amusing was the box-out detailing some of the titles of the adventures in their Japanese translations. It is also interesting to see how the entire gamebook genre, certainly those with rule systems spawned from this pivotal series and how many authors and illustrators from those series’ actually worked for Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone in some capacity at Games Workshop and White Dwarf magazine. On a personal level, finding about the origins of Joe Dever and Gary Chalk’s series. Lone Wolf, was very enlightening.
As well as being informative, You Are The Hero is beautifully presented. It opens as if a gamebook itself, with a minimal contents page reflective of that found in any of the gamebooks followed by a “how to read” section. I have to say, that while I really enjoyed the nostalgia of the contents page, I would have liked a full contents and / or an index – as a non-fiction work, I feel both are essential inclusions.
Jonathan Green has done a fantastic job in putting together the artwork for You Are The Hero. Not only has he gained permission to use some of the existing artwork from the original series of books and the re-launches but also commissioned new pieces of work from the original artists. The full page spreads featuring coloured cover art are particularly impressive. Each section is also bolstered by cover images as well as scans of either production sketches by the artists or production work by writers of the adventures.
In short, You Are The Hero is a magnificent work that manages to be objective and passionate about the series it discusses. A more fitting tribute to the series that saw me through my youth I can’t really imagine.
For any interested in adventure gamebooks or for those with children who are reluctant readers, I heartily recommend trawling the bookshops, Amazon and ebay. Pick up this book for a bit of a flavour as to what they are about.
To Steve Jackson, Ian Livingstone and Jonathan Green: YOU ARE THE HEROES. At least you are my heroes.
Rating: 4.5 / 5