Friday, 14 February 2020

The Crown of Kings - 35 years of magic

2020 marks the 35th anniversary of the publication of The Crown of Kings, the fourth and concluding adventure of Steve Jackson's seminal Sorcery! series.

Jackson conceived the epic gamebook experiment after holidaying in Nepal, and several of the settlements that appear in The Shamutanti Hills, the first book in the quartet, are named after actual villages he came across on a five day trek he undertook from the city of Pokhara.

The Shamutanti Hills concludes with the hero - the Analander - battling the Manticore that has appeared on the cover of every edition of the book ever published. The second book in the series, KharĂ© – Cityport of Traps, charts the hero’s challenging journey through the titular city to the spell-locked Northern Gate, through which he has to pass to continue the quest for the Crown of Kings.

The Seven Serpents, the third book in the series, takes the hero across the inhospitable Baklands – a treacherous wilderness of deserts, forests, and swamps – and a vast lake, as the Analander attempts to hunt down and do away with the Archmage’s assassin-agents of the title, seven deadly and magical serpents. And in The Crown of Kings, the hero has to climb through the Xamen Peaks to the Mampang Fortress, and then battle his way through the Archmage’s lair.

The Crown of Kings was a whopping 800 references in length - a record yet to be broken by any other Fighting Fantasy gamebook) – was a suitably epic finale to Sorcery! series, and featured one of the most memorable (and clever) denouements of any adventure ever published, not to mention encounters with a god-headed Hydra and entire societies of birdmen and she-satyrs.

When Jackson talks about the Sorcery! series, he does so, understandably, with great fondness. When pressed on the subject of which of the gamebooks he has written are his favourites, he cites two: “Warlock because it was the first. And Sorcery! because it was the most complex. Creating a four-part adventure in which your actions in Book 2 might affect your choices in Book 4 was a real challenge. Also making sure they were all good adventures in their own right; you didn’t need to have completed Sorcery 1 to play Sorcery 2. I was very proud of Sorcery!

Of course, in more recent years, the Sorcery! series has been turned into a series of apps by inkle studios, as well as a multi-player role-playing campaign published by Arion Games, while the first two parts of the Analander's momentous quest are now in print again, courtesy of Scholastic Books.


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