This is a first in my Choose Your Own Adventure review series: a double review of two editions of the same book! The original version of The Forbidden Castle by Edward Packard came out in 1982, but thirty-one years later he released a new, expanded and revised edition under the imprint U-Ventures. Mr. Packard talks about that in the awesome interview I just did with him. He also sent me a review copy of the 2013 The Forbidden Castle, and here is my review. But first let’s review the original.
The Forbidden Castle by Edward Packard (illustrated by Paul Granger)
Published: August 1982
Number in the CYOA Series: 14
The Forbidden Castle is, in a way, a sequel to the very first CYOA book, 1979’s The Cave of Time. The first words of the book are, “You promised yourself never to go back into the Cave of Time!” But of course you do go back into the Cave of Time, and wind up in medieval England. It’s difficult to tell exactly when it’s supposed to take place, and I don’t think Edward Packard had a specific era in mind; it does involve a king named Henry, which could be any of the first four Henrys, anywhere from 1100 to 1413.
Anyway, that doesn’t matter. You’re stuck in medieval England. Two knights ride up, discussing a legend about a Forbidden Castle, which can only be found by solving a riddle. The lord who conquers it, the legend goes, will wind up ruling all of Europe. After hearing this crucial bit of exposition, the first choice is whether to come out from your hiding place and show yourself to the knights, or stay hidden and wait for the next passer-by.
This is actually a pretty crucial choice. Waiting for the next passer-by puts you in the company of Garth, one of the book’s two main supporting characters. Garth is a free spirit who roams the woods, owing fealty to no lord. Several times you have the opportunity to stay with him or go off on your own. Leaving him usually involves winding up at Cotwin Castle (also the plot triggered if you choose to show yourself to the knights), where, because of your hideous early 80s clothes, they decide to burn you at the stake. You only salvation is to pretend like you’ve solved the riddle of the Forbidden Castle. But guess what? You haven’t got a clue. You’re just bluffing.
These two plot movements tend to hold together pretty well, and as a result The Forbidden Castle is a much more cohesive narrative than most CYOA books. The crucial plot, however, is when you make it to France and meet a girl named Michelle, sort of a tavern-wench-in-training (G-rated, of course). It’s with Michelle that you really get going on your own search for the Forbidden Castle. There is only one ending in which you find it, which makes a nice goal to work toward and a satisfying “win” ending.
Still, as well-constructed as The Forbidden Castle is, as you read it there’s a sense of something missing. It’s fun and engaging, but the “sizzle” that makes books like The Third Planet From Altair and Hyperspace really cook seems to be absent from this one. It takes a long time and several readings for this book to really grow on you. Thus, the first time through it may seem somewhat unimpressive; its attributes become evident with repeated readings, which not everyone may want to invest their time in. Something here seems like a missed opportunity.
“Missed opportunity…” That sounds like a perfect choice for a re-boot! And that’s exactly what Edward Packard gives us in the 2013 version.
The Forbidden Castle by Edward Packard (Illustrated by Drew Willis)
Note: the new Forbidden Castle is published under the series U-Ventures, which is not affiliated with the official Choose Your Own Adventure series.
If the “sizzle” was missing from the original, Edward Packard’s expanded edition finds it and puts it back in. The 2013 The Forbidden Castle is markedly superior to the original, and illustrates in a way not possible with the original books the potential of the interactive format.
The plot, the scenario and most of the basic choices are the same. The Cave of Time, check; medieval England, check; Forbidden Castle legend, check; first choice, check. Garth and Michelle are both here again in the same basic roles, though both are more fleshed out as characters, and Packard expands and embellishes a minor subplot of the first book–where you join the court of “King Rufus the Mad” of Hereford–into a much sturdier plot thread, such that Rufus the Mad stands as an important supporting character on his own. Because the book is longer (184 pages), there’s room for more description, richer characterizations and better understanding of the choices.
Even as a kid I was often frustrated by how short the Choose Your Own Adventure books were. Finding one longer than 115 pages was extremely rare, and for very complex adventures there just wasn’t enough room to do it right. The Forbidden Castle 2013 solves this problem. I really liked having more description, and the plot elements and choices aren’t just whizzing by at breakneck speed like in the original series.
The chief difference, structurally, between the 2013 and 1982 versions is the addition of the “secret name” which you need in order to find the Forbidden Castle. The trick is, the normal pathways through the story will only give you one half of the name at a time, so you need to do multiple readings to be able to make the one correct choice that will lead you to the Forbidden Castle. This is a neat trick and one that was never done in the original series.
I also like the nods to changing times and modern conditions. For example, at one point you pull out your cell phone, which of course the people of medieval England think is a magic talisman.
If the original Forbidden Castle book had been written as this one was, it would probably be the best of the series. It’s wonderful to see that after 30 years Edward Packard hasn’t lost his touch. The decision to re-boot this book, particularly, was an inspired one; there was enough right with the 1982 version to serve as a solid foundation, but also enough missing from it to provide a powerful motivation to improve it. I think modern kids will love and appreciate this book, and it should appeal to adults too.
This one is really great. I highly recommend the new Forbidden Castle, especially if you were a Choose Your Own Adventure fan in the 80s. It’s like a visit from an old friend.
Grade: A plus
Next in my interactive book review series, the debut book by Julius Goodman takes the CYOA franchise back into space.