Friday 19 June 2020

Blast from the Past! Legend of the Shadow Warriors

This weekend it is the summer solstice in the northern hemisphere of your Earthly Plane, a time when those who live close to nature call to mind the pagan spirits of the past.

Some of those pagan nature spirits made an appearance in Legend of the Shadow Warriors (FF44, copyright Stephen Hand). Published in 1991, it was Hand's first solo contribution to the Fighting Fantasy series, having co-written Dead of Night with Jim Bambra. It was illustrated by Martin McKenna, who had also worked on Dead of Night, while Terry Oakes provided the cover paiting, having done the same for the aforementioned Dead of Night.

"After much hard work, Dead of Night was finished," Stephen Hand said in an interview with "Jim and I were pleased to be immediately invited to write another book. Jim decided not to write another, so I worked on Legend of the Shadow Warriors alone.

"It was a blast. Now I had no reason, other than my own failings, not to go way over the top. I tried to create a world that I as a kid would love to have visited (albeit with armed guards) - a total Hammer Horror reality with real history and personalities. I tried to create a quest that no one had done before, and I tried to take up some serious issues... I also started to build up characters and themes that I wanted to develop over time."

Set in Gallantaria, the adventure cast the hero as a veteran of the War of the Four Kingdoms who sets out to discover whether the five ghostly figures that are putting entire villages to the sword are really the Shadow Warriors of legend.

Shadow Warriors, by Martin McKenna.

Hand’s horror movie influences – everything from Universal, Hammer and Amicus, to Spanish and Italian films and ‘80s Splatter – were even more obvious in this book, particularly with the introduction of Kauderwelsch’s Frankenstein-like Monster. The adventure is formed from a series of vignettes that give it the feeling of a long-running RPG campaign, more epic in scope, rather than just a one-off solo gamebook.

Cauldron Ring, by Martin McKenna.

The climax to the adventure remains unique out of all the Fighting Fantasy gamebooks ever published, with the hero having to forgive and heal the enemy rather than kill and destroy him.

“‘You put your arms around an old man, crying with the simple joy of being alive’ is simply the most emotionally satisfying conclusion to the series next to retrieving the Crown of Kings,” says FF fan Lin Liren.

Haggworts, by Martin McKenna.

In Legend of the Shadow Warriors, Hand had introduced the sinister Mandrakes to Fighting Fantasy – sentient plant-creatures that mimicked human beings (clearly inspired by the 1978 remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers).

The horror of the Mandrakes, by Martin McKenna.

The is a brief cameo appearance from a Mandrake in Hand's next adventure, Moonrunner, but he fully intended to return to them in Blood of the Mandrake, which would have conclude his Old World series. But having taken a full-time job with PC games company MicroProse, Hand had less and less time to devote to his freelance work, and so sadly it was not to be.

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