S.E. rating: 4 of 5 stars
Obscure, Awesome Arcana for RPG-philes: Firestorm is very dark (authentically “grimdark” in fact as discussed below), young-adult fantasy infused with RPG/Warhammer history. The pace is ridiculously epic, belying the purpose of the first book: introduce four adventures and the titular antagonist, Zagor. The heores are the trope-typical band of four: Braxus the Warrior ; Anvar the Barbarian; Stubble the beardless Dwarf; a female wizard Jallarial. In the span of every few pages, armies are introduced and destroyed; global swathes of destruction and conflict occur constantly; giant monsters come, kill, and then are thwarted or left to destroy. Very intense. The action is so fast and compact, that it is difficult to keep pace especially if the reader is not familiar with the series. For instance, the “Casket of Souls” artifact plays a key role in this book; but without reading the other books in the franchise, the reader would never know why it is suddenly introduced and used. Die-hard RPG would devour this, if they can track it down. It shows the evolution from Fighting Fantasy into the Warhammer games.
Fighting Fantasy – RPG gamebooks and Warhammer: My gateway into the Sword & Sorcery genre was most likely the Fighting Fantasy books (choose-your-own-adventures + dice) created by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone in the early 1980's (Games Workshop founders; these two would then co-found Warhammer). Before personal computers & smart phones could satiate the need for solo adventuring on the go, these books rocked. They were full of disturbing illustrations that still haunt me to this day. Interestingly, select ones (like Warlock of Firetop Mountain and Steve Jackson’s Sorcery) are now available on Kindle from Worldweaver and iTunes by Tinman games. The tablet evolution has revitalized these game books, check them out! Ostensibly marketed toward the young adult crowd, these are full of darkness. The artwork of the Games Workshop has always been top notch.
Kickstarter Reveals The Grimdark History: Jonathan Green, author of many novels including those under the Warhammer and Fighting Fantasy brands, recently (2014) led a Kickstarter campaign to create a history book detailing how these adventure books evolved. This 2012 effort was successful, and the print and eBook copies are now available. The resulting book You are the Hero (YATH) is 272 pages of illustrated goodness, with insights from authors, publishers, and artists. John Blanche, currently Games Workshop’s art director and “the man responsible for coming up with the look of the worlds of Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000” (p45 YATH) explicitly addresses the evolution of Grimness:
“The FF books were the early thoughts about fantasy needing to be dark and grim that became more fully developed in the worlds of Warhammer – and it is still happening today. The punk thing is a tribal street visual that pervades all history as far back as you wish – it’s a hint of shamanism, tribalism, barbarism, etc. People relate to that in a very enthusiastic manner. Fantasy is not about fairies and golden knights but about guys with shaved heads and zombies and a multitude of macabre horrific nastiness.” (p52, You Are The Hero, 2014)
The origin of Grimdark chronicled: Many cite Grimdark’s name as being evolved from the tagline of Game’s Workshop’s sci-fi brand of fiction/games: Warhammer 40,0000. The tagline follows: "In the grim darkness of the far future, there is only war.” Of course, GW also produces the fantasy Olde World line up too (medieval fantasy). Check out GW’s Black Library for their books. So before Warhammer 40,0000, what did GW produce? What spawned this tagline of Grim Darkness? The answer: Fighting Fantasy. Its development is chronicled in a new book, and the series has been revived in App/eBook form. Reading You are the Hero alerted me to awesome evolution of Zagor, the warlock in the first The Warlock of Firetop Mountain gamebook. Diehard Grimdark aficionados will hunt down The Zagor Chronicles.
Darth Maul , Zagor and Iain McCaig : Before designing the iconic Darth Maul for Starwars Episode I: The Phantom Menance, Iain McCaig had a lengthy collaboration with Ian Livingstone. Darth Maul is actually evolved from a cover from the FF series #5 City of Thieves. As the FF universe grew, they made a new type of puzzle book in which reader had to decipher a hidden spell from illustrations Casket of Souls (the casket has since become part of the Tomb King artifacts in Warhammer). Sallazar the Wizard is the narrator of “Casket” and his history becomes intertwined with several heroes in Firestorm and that of Zagor the necromancer.
In the Legend of Zagor, readers can “become” one of 4 heroes which they can read in the novel Firestorm: featured are the main heroes in Firestorm....Braxus the Warrior ; Anvar the Barbarian; Stubble the beardless Dwarf; Sallazar the Wizard (in Firestorm, Sallazar is replaced with a female wizard Jallarial).
Key Books in the history of ZAGOR:
Fighting Fantasy (Dice and paper) gamebooks re: Zagor
1982 - The Warlock of Firetop Mountain by Steve Jackson & Ian Livingstone
1992- Return to Firetop Mountain
1993 -Legend of Zagor
1987 Illustrated gamebook Casket of Souls
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