The Crown of Kings (1985)

If you can forgive The Seven Serpents its flaws, you are in for a treat: The Crown of Kings, the final volume in the Steve Jackson Sorcery series, is maybe the best adventure gamebook ever written (I have a fondness for the near-perfect Golden Dragon book Eye of the Dragon, but Crown of Kings’ size and placement at the end of an epic four-volume series makes it quite an achievement).

First off, this book is double the size of the previous volumes, weighing in at a massive 800 entries. It is intricate, with many well-realized characters, and very difficult – there are several ways you can be in a position to triumph only to find you’ve rendered the book unwinnable by overlooking small details in the early sections.

For my money, the thing that is truly great is how a detail from the first book – if you remember it! – makes for an entirely different experience. I shall say no more about that, though.

Sadly, I think Blanche was struggling under deadline here – I have no great fondness for most of his illustrations in this book. I do want to mention a thing I like about adventure gamebook art, exemplified by the image of the three gentlemen I have included here. The best examples take on a strange, surreal quality not dissimilar to Tarot cards. They often seem less frozen in time than highly posed, which I think imparts the implication of many hidden meanings.

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