* Prices may differ from that shown
Come back with me, far back in the mists of time to 1984, a year so lost now in the dim and distant past that our new Prime Minister was still at Eton and Nintendo's NES console had not even been introduced to its home market. In these far-off days the Fighting Fantasy solo gamebook series was getting into its stride, with Island of the Lizard King becoming the seventh in the series to be published. (It is number 17 in the more recent Wizard Books series.) This was, incidentally, the last FF book to be published by Puffin before the infamous bright green spines were introduced.
This is the third and last in a short series of FF books by Ian Livingstone which he churned out at this time; his partner in crime Steve Jackson was otherwise engaged creating the glorious "Sorcery!" series. The three books can, just about, be seen as a sort of loose trilogy, with this book following on from "City of Thieves" and "Deathtrap Dungeon", although the only real links are that you are told in the introductions that you have come to one setting from another, and there is no need to have played either of the earlier books.
The cover illustration by Iain McCaig is one of the best of the early FF books. The red background of the Puffin edition's cover suits both the story (a volcano features prominently) and the dramatic picture of the Lizard King himself brandishing a wicked-looking cutlass. Most of the illustration has been retained for the Wizard version, although the background has been altered to have a rather stereotypical "hideout in the ruins" look, and for reasons unknown the Lizard King is no longer holding the vicious-looking panther shown on the Puffin cover. Both of them, however, show what in retrospect is a fairly important clue to the creature's strength... Alan Langford's inside illustrations are nicely worked, too.
As seasoned FF players would expect from an Ian Livingstone book, Island of the Lizard King is not stunningly imaginative in terms of its plot. Young men are being kidnapped from a fishing village to work as slaves for the Lizard King, and you must go and rescue them. At first you do have a companion - Mungo - who is slightly less of a cardboard cut-out than most villagers, peasants etc that appear in many of these books; however, it's probably not giving all that much away to say that he's not with you for too long, and after that things take a more straightforward "hack and slash" turn, though pleasingly you are actually rewarded for reading things carefully. Well, this is a book, after all!
The items in this book are a bit odd, frankly. Although magic in and of itself doesn't really play a part, there's more than one piece of equipment that turns up that is clearly magical: a "pouch of unlimited contents", for example, which I suppose was probably dropped by some careless passing wizard. Or something. And then there are the enchanted climbing boots, which are so enchanted that they even make you think out of nowhere that trying to walk up a wall might be a good idea. And as for getting a pail of water and keeping it with you as you battle various monsters... enough said, I think!
That being so, it's probably not a good idea to take Island of the Lizard King too seriously. It's not particularly difficult if you have decent initial stats, and there aren't too many dead ends; so although, as I said, you benefit from reading carefully, you don't need the levels of intense concentration that you do with some of the harder entries in the series. I doubt it's a book that you'll play dozens of times, unless you just happen to like the tropical island setting (and stranger things have happened) but it's enjoyable enough, and probably worth the £3.70 inc p&p that Amazon currently charge.