Sunday 29 November 2020

Blast from the Past! City of Thieves

The fifth and sixth Fighting Fantasy gamebooks regularly via for the top spot in best of polls, and they have a number of elements in common. They were both written by Ian Livingstone, co-creator of the FF series, they were both illustrated inside and out by Iain McCaig, and they are both challenging to complete. However, where they differ is in that Deathtrap Dungeon is a classic subterranean dungeon crawl, while City of Thieves is the first gamebook that features an urban setting.

For his second gamebook with the sole writing credit, Ian Livingstone plumped for a city-based adventure. City of Thieves sends the hero to Port Blacksand for the first time, searching for the means to save the prosperous town of Silverton from the evil Night Prince Zanbar Bone and his bloodthirsty Moon Dogs.

This was the first occasion on which Iain McCaig produced not just the internal illustrations but also, what has since become, a classic cover.

“I've always been fascinated by graveside sculptures of the Grim Reaper,” says McCaig. “I eventually designed one for Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.  Zanbar Bone is an early attempt to bring one to life.”

Jackson and Livingstone originally asked McCaig to work on The Warlock of Firetop Mountain but at the time he was busy painting a Jethro Tull album cover and had to turn them down. “Fortunately, the timing worked out better for Ian’s first solo book, The Forest of Doom,” explains McCaig, “for which I did the cover, and both his follow-up books, City of Thieves and Deathtrap Dungeon, for which I did both the interior and cover art. I don’t think I ever enjoyed such a close working relationship with any other author, before or since,” says Iain.

City of Thieves was my first taste of the Fighting Fantasy universe awaiting me,” says comics writer Andi Ewington, who later turned Freeway Fighter into a graphic novel. “I had been reading TSR’s Endless Quest series for a while, and even though they were enjoyable, I found they didn't quite leave you feeling ‘heroic’ at the end… I remember being drawn to that iconic Iain McCaig cover featuring Zanbar Bone. Picking it up and several brief scans of the interior later I realised I was holding the Holy Grail of single player gaming experience in my eleven year-old hands."

When Titan - The Fighting Fantasy World was published, it included a detailed plan of the streets of Port Blacksand, drawn by cartographer Steve Luxton.

Heroic adventurers have revisited the eponymous City of Thieves, many times since, not least in Graeme Davis's Midnight Rogue, which cast the hero in the role of an aspiring member of the Thieves’ Guild of Port Blacksand, and the second Advanced Fighting Fantasy volume Blacksand!

In Blacksand! co-author Marc Gascoigne added detail to the City of Thieves, giving an insight into the individuals, the taverns, businesses and temples of Port Blacksand, as well as its various guilds and nefarious cults.

In 2017, City of Thieves was reissued by Scholastic Books, featuring a new cover by Robert Ball.

Ian Livingstone returned to Port Blacksand, for The Port of Peril, the first new Fighting Fantasy adventure published by Scholastic, while the ruler of the City of Thieves, Lord Azzur, also made an appearance in 2019's Assassins of Allansia.

And somehow the Warlock doubts that this is the last we have seen of that particular den of iniquity either...

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