Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Choose Your Own Adventure - Vampire Express (Real Review)

Time for a break from the sparkly strain of vampire.

Although there's still a character named Bela.
To be perfectly honest, I’ve never cared much for Choose Your Own Adventure books. In most of the books I didn’t find the writing especially gripping and the urge to go back and try other options was never very strong. Vampire Express was one of the exceptions.

As the book opens you’re on a train through the Carpathian mountains en route to meet your uncle Andrew. This isn’t just a friendly visit, either. He finally thinks you’re old enough to help him hunt down vampires.

Along for the ride are uncle Andrew’s friend Mrs. West, owner of a jewel called the Bloodstone (uh oh), and her niece Nina. Suddenly Mrs. West starts ranting about a painting talking to her and runs out of the compartment, and doesn’t come back. You could try asking other passengers about Mrs. West, or you could talk to the reclusive Count Zoltan and his wife…

Okay, there’s absolutely no mystery regarding who the villains of this book are. And being written for adolescent readers, it’s not particularly scary for a book about looking for vampires in isolated mountains. And one pathway presumes familiarity with The Pink Panther. Not the cartoon, the movie, which I knew nothing about the first time I read this.

Bearing in mind what it is, however, it’s a pretty decent read. The adventure’s as tense and mysterious as Koltz probably felt he could write it without parent-teacher groups descending on him like an angry rain (although I have read books aimed at this age group that weren’t afraid to be scary. Check out Invasion of the Black Slime sometime).

Since the book opens with a mystery, the urge to explore and discover more information is a little stronger than usual in a Choose Your Own Adventure book. The other members of the expedition are also a fairly colorful bunch, though few get a chance to develop beyond a basic archetype.

That all said, it’s a little too easy to defeat the vampires considering that not only do they have their normal nigh-invulnerability, but a magic talisman that’s supposed to make them even harder to kill. Even when you’re offered a chance between a quick and less than optimal victory, and a difficult confrontation with a bigger payoff, and you choose the second one. This ease of victory is especially true if you decide to get help from the gypsies on the train. And since uncle Andrew’s letter says you can count on gypsies for help, that’ll probably be your first instinct.

As I said, I’ve never thought much of the rather minimalist Choose Your Own Adventure series. If you can get into that particular branch of interactive fiction, Vampire Express is a cut above the rest.

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