Ian Livingstone's City of Thieves, the 5th Fighting Fantasy gamebook, was the second one of the series I read, having found it and Island of the Lizard King in my local village library at the age of 12 in early 1986 (I later bought it, like much of my collection, from a friend for about 50p). As is often the way with the books that got people into the series, I retain a deep affection for this book, but if you think about the combination of brilliant cover and interior illustrations, atmospheric setting, mappability and devious difficulty (which appealed to my younger self a lot), there's a lot to like about this book. It's also got that old-fashioned charm characteristic of the early FF books - nothing too complicated, just a fun fantasy world of rollicking adventures, set in a land we didn't know much about, but one we knew was filled with all sorts of adventuring possibilities.
One of the (many) things I like about City of Thieves is actually the bits of the adventure which happen between the main places of interest. The journeys from Silverton to Port Blacksand, from Blacksand to Zanbar Bone's Tower, and from there back to Silverton. These are only tiny bits of the whole adventure, but they give us brief hints of the rural background to the adventure, adding to the atmosphere and our knowledge of the world of Fighting Fantasy, and they involve my favourite Fighting Fantasy activity of them all - travelling through the beautiful but treacherous wilds of Titan, camping under the stars, foraging for food, and living a life of adventurous freedom. These bits of the adventure, short as they are, bear repeating here, I think:
"The walk to Port Blacksand takes you west some fifty miles across plains and over hill; fortunately without any harmful encounters. Eventually you reach the coast and see the high city wall surrounding Port Blacksand and the cluster of buildings projecting into the sea like an ugly black mark." (para. 1)
"Following Nicodemus's map, you start your long walk north to the guarded tower of Zanbar Bone, the Night Prince. You walk through woods and fields. You are able to relax a little in the pleasant countryside and breathe the fresh air with its wonderful scents. As the light fades you decide to camp under a huge elm tree. You cook a meal of stewed rabbit and mushrooms before settling down to a long, deep sleep ... You set off again but it is not long before your surroundings become less welcoming, the trees are twisted or stunted and there are no birds to be heard" (para. 201)
"You leave Zanbar Bone's black tower ... You sleep the rest of the night and long into the next morning in a hayfield, before setting off for Silverton in the afternoon. Battle-weary and hungry, you arrive in Silverton the same evening." (para. 400)Ah! That's the life, isn't it? Maybe there should have been a whole FF adventure devoted to just wandering about in the countryside (oh, hang on, there is, The Shamutanti Hills, another favourite of mine). These little bits of the adventure also give us a nice insight into everyday rural life in northwest Allansia, a place of quiet fields and woods, not just of scummy cities or dank dungeons.
But there's something else of interest in all of this too. Where exactly is Zanbar Bone's tower? It's not marked on any of the Fighting Fantasy maps, but there's quite a bit to go on in the text of City of Thieves, so let's see if we can work it out. Here are the key points:
- Silverton is 50 miles west of Port Blacksand (CoT para. 1). We're not told how long the journey from Silverton to Blacksand takes you, but you leave Silverton at dawn (Background) and don't sleep in Port Blacksand (you sleep somewhere between Blacksand and Bone's tower, para. 201), so it's likely to be at least two day's travel.
- Nicodemus's map shows you that Zanbar Bone's tower is north of Blacksand (paras. 201 and 283). It is quite some distance from the city: you travel north for some time after leaving Blacksand before camping for the night, then walk all day to Bone's tower, getting there at night (para. 217).
- The journey back from Bone's tower to Silverton only takes you half a day (you set off in the afternoon and arrive the same evening, para. 400).
Hmm, there's something which doesn't quite add up here. If you travel 50 miles west from Silverton, at least two day's journey, then north from Blacksand for a day and a half to Bone's tower, then back to Silverton, you'd expect the journey back to Silverton to take about two and a half days. According to Pythagoras, the distance from Bone's tower to Silverton should equal the square root of the sum of the squares of the length of the journeys from Silverton to Blacksand, roughly two days, and from Blacksand to Bone's tower, roughly one and a half days, since these two journeys are at right angles to each other, west-east and south-north: √(2²+1.5²) = 2.5. But that's not what we get in CoT, so what's going on? I can only assume that although you set out in a vaguely northward direction from Blacksand, you must veer quite considerably east as you travel, so that Bone's tower lies much closer to Silverton, e.g. somewhere between Mirewater and Silverton, north of the Catfish River (and the Chalice-to-Blacksand road, see Dungeoneer p. 33). This would also explain the Night Prince's special interest in and knowledge of the inhabitants of Silverton - the town is close to his domain. What do you think?
It's nice to think that after all these years there's still plenty in the early FF gamebooks to intrigue us. Well, I think I'll turn in for now, set up camp, start a nice fire, and cook some of those mushrooms and squirrels I found earlier. I'll ponder the location of Bone's tower as I drift off to sleep and hope that I don't have to roll any dice through the night to see if I'm disturbed.