Aether was hard for me to get into on the first pass, and I think it is because (like MANY of this year's gamebooks) I did not feel that I had an adequate sense of the setting before the story began. Okay, I was able to figure out that there's apparently these aetherial arts--but where are we? WHEN are we? Is this mideval, modern, some other world altogether?
Once I forced myself to swallow and keep reading, it actually turned into a very cool story. Eventually it became clear that it was set in the modern era. I was quite pleased by the twist that Morton Prentice is not some mysterious magical assassin, but just a clumsy kid playing with forces he doesn't understand, and in fact, you wouldn't have gotten killed if you hadn't gotten involved and gotten in the way, and you wouldn't have gotten involved at all if it weren't for the prophecy that he was going to kill you! Very nice self-fulfilling prophecy there :)
I think what I really appreciate about Aether is that at the end of the day, it's a story. It may not be completely realized (I'm looking at you, early setting descriptors) but it has characters, it has a plot. It has twists and surprises, and it's good. I like the ghost of the old witch, I like the effect of that creepy ass book. The ending, though sad for certain characters, even in the best ending, was satisfying; it felt as it should be.
One criticism I do have has to do with the logical flow. The game made heavy use of returning to certain numbered sections as central hub points, from which you could pursue a number of alternatives. While one can safely assume you shouldn't return to sections you've been to before, that was never explicitly stated, and it was totally viable--as far as the text itself guided you--to break logical continuity. In fact, in order to pursue one option and get one bit of information important for reaching the successful ending, you had to make some choices that came very close to backtracking. I'm looking at getting to Mr. Candlish after you have information from Morton's house. By then the game is urging you to move onward; in order to get back to Mr. Candlish, you have to go back to a prior hub point and select "Look for Morton Prentice" which doesn't make any sense because you've already found MP. You were in his house!
The continuity of those hub chapters could use some work, and the story badly needs one or two additional paragraphs inserted toward the beginning to "set" the setting. Other than that, it was a very well put together gamebook with strong characters and a strong story. I was pleased.
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