The Scarlet Thief by Ramsay Duff
Warning! Review may contain spoilers!
The Scarlet Thief is a cyberpunk crime and mystery adventure set in a colourful world, and an entry for the Windhammer Prize 2013. You play Jacques Leblanc and are accused of stealing a valuable sceptre in a case of unfortunate mistaken identity.
The book opens with the police bashing down the door, just after you settle down with your tea and toast to read the morning newspaper. As it is with these things, the front page headline you have just read is now going to affect you in an immediate way. A quick escape later, and we’re exploring the streets of Eos. Here you find yourself dropped into a slightly familiar setting. It feels like a France in a parallel universe, with robots and airships common sights.
The plot is actually quite interesting, if slightly predictable (although I didn’t get too far into it – more on that later – but I felt like I knew where it was heading). The writing is mostly good but occasionally not so good.
You shuffle to your feet to open the curtains of your tiny apartment. Sunlight floods in, revealing the beautiful city of Eos, its towering spires and elaborate architecture a sure-fire way of bringing you awake with cheer. In the streets people, mechanical automata and shimmering aetherforms are already setting about their tasks of the day, while airships ply the sky, rising towards the great Flying Château overhead.
“You fellows are right stinkers you know,” Sarah says,
“Yes.” You agree, “You are.”
These were my final words before being clubbed to death by a thug with a cricket bat. And this is what is wrong with the gamebook: it is hard. You need prior knowledge to complete it successfully, otherwise, like me, you will die instantly because you’ve missed some vital object 20 paragraphs ago. I feel this is a big gamebook sin, and the reader should at least have a chance to play the book by choosing sensibly (not randomly). I’ve played enough gamebooks to know you are supposed to rifle through drawers and explore every room when your life is in mortal danger, but the Windhammer Prize is about moving the genre on and we shouldn’t be expected to do random things these days.
It is a shame because I think there’s a good gamebook inside waiting to get out. The storyline and world are all impressive and would be good to explore further. It is just a pity it does not award careful and sensible play. I should give it a second playthrough, and it is interesting enough for that.