Sunday, December 2, 2012

Evil Eye by S. J. Bell

I have to say something about the Evil Eye, by S. J. Bell. When I was reading through the introductions to all of them to get a feel for what the field looked like, I got toward the end of the intro for Evil Eye, looked up, and realized that my heart was pumping, my breath was shallow, I was clenching my muscles ready to go find and kill those bastard who took your wife.


I've almost never read a gamebook that made me feel that much that quickly, that roped me in so completely. I was getting pretty jaded by the time I got to this point in the list, but this story made me forget that I was reading a gamebook--I was in the world.

That said, there were one or two oddities... In the introduction itself, there was one moment where the son is like, "We have to go to the king and tell him to arrest Barrington!" and the main character is like, "No! Think it through. Look son, we have to go to the king and tell him to arrest Barrington."

My head did a spin right then. I think the distinction Bell is trying to create is doing it privately vs. doing it publicly, but that was not at all clear the first time through.

The only other place I think some improvement could be made would be showing the connection between Annalisa and Caldus a little more subtly. Don't get me wrong--Caldus' passion to find his wife IS what roped me into loving this entry. But by the time he reaches her, it's kind of happy sappy fun times. I just have to think that after several decades of marriage... well, their reunion would be more complicated than that. Their happiness is just so "in your face." Sometimes, especially with the most powerful emotions, it's more evocative to hint at them rather than portray it so explicitly. With the kind of feelings they would each have upon finding each other again... words are inadequate. It can't be captured by giving each other a big hug and saying "I love you." Their happiness is very clear, but it might have been shared with the reader more effectively if it were understated somewhat--hinted at rather than put on display.

That said, this is an extremely high-level criticism for an extremely high-level work. This piece is nothing like Dating a Witch, where the dialogue was cringeworthy. In Evil Eye, the dialogue is consistently excellent, the story takes my breath away, the characters are compelling and interesting.

And something else, which I was particularly impressed by, regarding Evil Eye as a gamebook specifically, all of the items were exceptionally well done. You have the assassin's dagger, the Thunderstone, Annalisa's Bracelet and the Serpent Insignia. Each of these items not only is useful for plot purposes, but has color, history, tells you something about the world or about the character it belongs to. Each is significant. The items are like characters in their own right, part of the colorful and intricate tapestry of the world. Beautifully done.

When I had to set this aside to read more introductions, it lingered with me. I was genuinely worried that I might come back to it, go out and pound the streets, and not be able to find my wife. I mean genuinely worried.

Very well done, sir. This earned one of my two votes, along with a permanent place in my personal Gamebook Hall of Fame.


  1. I also loved the twist as all of the text was consistent with the twist which showed that S.J Bell had put a lot of thought to the detail of the book.

  2. This earned one of my votes too - and when I got to the end I felt compelled to go right back to the beginning and play through again!

  3. I had a feeling that the book needed at least one more revision to iron out some of these problems. It might be worth the trouble to do some more work on it and release a revised edition. After my current project is done, maybe. But I'm glad people enjoyed it as-is. ^_^

    Incidentally, I wrote up a post-mortem with some of my thoughts on the book and how it turned out. Check it out at my blog