Friday, September 4, 2015

Which Way Books #3: The Spell of the Black Raven

I really hadn't intended to take a two month break from these reviews, but with my whirlwind romance with the sovereign citizen movement combined with a general work-shy attitude toward reading, here we are. The last one was a classic vampire tale, but it's definitely time to get back to Which Way Books and what, at least superficially, suggests a theme possibly more interesting than their usual stripped down and thoroughly tepid offerings. Ravens and spells, it's like the peanut butter jar and candy bar combination that, for whatever reason, never captured our collective attention. Magic birds, dude. This is going to be something.

Nightmare clown is all "Nevermore, y'all!"

In fairness the high concept set-ups are one of the few strengths of the Which Way series and this one certainly continues in this proud tradition. Like every epic tale of magic and monsters it begins with nothing to do on a Saturday night. "Even television seems boring," we are informed. Now that I find hard to believe, but there it is. What about the scripted comedies and commercial-friendly sporting events? Come on, television always delivers. This is also the second time in the first three books that "television let me down" was a major plot element, while the other involved the time movies failed. Say what you want about this author, he/she/it clearly anticipated the common "Reading sucks!" objections from the grammar school crowd and was prepared to counter them.

Let me photoshop in some booty to really hammer home my intellectual credentials.

No time to dwell on the failure of my one true friend in the living room, there's more cliches to check off. It's my birthday and my wacky Uncle George the anthropologist sent a letter. Yes, another secondary relation with an unusual background. If I made a drinking game out of this I wouldn't get drunk or anything because it would be one drink every four months or so, but still. Can't it ever be wacky grandpa or scholarly in-laws? It's just lazy. Anyway, the letter is to announce a package that will be arriving later from the "Indians" this guy has been studying, because trained anthropologists use that word to describe native peoples and sending a separate letter instead of just taping a card to the package is an efficient use of the postal service.

Anyway, the mystery box arrives later that day. Good thing UPS or whoever coordinated with the snail mailers to make sure it arrived after the explanatory letter. Honestly, just mail it all as one piece, it would work out fine. Academics, they just can't work this "real world" thing at all. Naturally, the mystery box also has a note on it, because logic, declaring it contains a raven named "George." Well, that's a bit banal. I guess the poor miserable guy with the dead wife will ask if he'll ever be happy again and get "George" for a response from the dark devil perched on the bust of Pallas and have to try to make some sense out of that. In any case, there's a raven.

I decide to release the bird because wild animals shouldn't be pets. You're free now "George," fly as high as you can! Of course, the midnight flier promptly returns to my shoulder and continues to resist my efforts to grant him horrible, horrible freedom. Understandable.  

Fly away old friend, with all your might!

I'm not about to be dissuaded and decide to go in the house until it's very clear to Heckle or Jeckle that I'm just not into this. Naturally, this also fails and when I go back outside (see, there's your problem, right there) good old George the Raven is back and he's got the penknife I lost two months ago, presumably during my raid on the castle that wrecked the television reception. Yes, there was a time when child knife ownership was considered normal, healthy and not just cause to bring in the full power of the federal government.

This gift of wussy cutting technology apparently convinces me to allow the raven to stick around and good thing because a sudden intuition allows me to save some guy from blundering into traffic. Must be that ESP. Man, it's like this thing was written by putting a few Choose Your Own Adventure books in a blender and topping off the result with trademark Which Way Books brevity and incoherence. The man's name is "Rocco" and he's offering a job that pays well. The Reagen presidency, friends. I'm so in.

You'll be moving suspicious packages and disposing of human-shaped bundles.

The only catch is I can't bring "the pigeon." You know what, that's fine. I go inside to put George in a box or whatever, but then have second thoughts about the whole thing and the plot line simply ends right there with the book looping back to a "You go to the carnival" choice I would have gotten if I'd taken the other branch from the first choice. Yeah, that's the satisfying pay-off to the "Your ESP helps you become a Made Man" plot. You're pushing me book, you're really pushing me.

With a chance to make sweet bag man money already forgotten I hit the midway and decide to check out the "House of Horrors." Skeletons, witches, blah, blah, I wanted to join the Black Hand not read short, bland prose about various uninspired "scary" elements. I guess the raven is still with me because that's such a well-crafted and organic theme for this bullshit. 

I try to run from a witch that's apparently "real," we get some bloodless "Final Destination" rollercoaster b.s. and I use my magic raven to reunite a mother with a lost child. The End, thank goodness.

I'm totally fine, don't worry.

I'm used to Which Way Books taking a relatively promising and original set-up and completely ruining it, but this one is the worst offender so far. If I can't become the Littlest Don why even offer the choice and worse, why send me back to the start of the book as if this experience meant nothing and can be quickly pushed aside to visit some lame carny attractions. Really, everything I tried to do was over-ruled by the book, always a sign of poor construction. Why even offer choices if they're meaningless? Yeah, this was so disappointing I'm now reduced to existential misery and No Exit navel-gazing, wonderful.

 Just do it right sucker, it really isn't that hard. Be HAPPY!!!! Ugh.

Aaron Zehner is the author of "The Foolchild Invention" available in paperback and e-book format. Read free excerpts here and here.

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