It’s been a long time since I’ve reviewed a spanish gamebook, and here I come with the first title of the new «Sección 14» series of gamebooks from Editorial Suseya. In «La Cofradía» («The Brotherhood») by author Juan Pablo Fernández del Río, we take the role of a member of a fictional secret society in the spanish middle ages, the so-called «brotherhood», a group of scholars which aim to watch over the accumulated knowledge of humanity throughout the centuries.
First of all, I think it’s only fair to say that Juan Pablo is not only a prominent member of Dédalo, the spanish gamebook association I belong to, but he is also a good friend of mine. That means that this review may (or may not) have a certain amount of bias on my side. You are free to decide how much you can trust my opinions on his work.
The story takes place in the XIV century, at a time in which the Iberian Peninsula had five different kingdoms fighting each other to extend their dominion. The kingdom of Castile (catholic for the most part) and the kingdom of Granada (muslim for the most part) are living a critical moment. After the sudden death of his father, the young thirteen year old Enrique III is crowned as king, and this is percieved as a weakness by the neighbouring kingdoms. At the same time, in Granada, the sultan Yusuf II rises to power, but his rule is short, as his brother Muhammad takes over the sultanate and confines his brother in the castle in Salobreña.
This is bad news for the Brotherhood, as the new sultan Muhammad is only interested in waging war against the Castilians, and not at all in letting scholars do their work. So, a quest is given to our protagonist, an alchemist – called Yusuf, like the jailed brother of Muhammad – to help overthrow the bellicose sultan. He will have to get inside the Alhambra, the palace of Granada, and make contact with a mysterious ally nicknamed «the Falcon«, who is also the leader of the conspirancy against Muhammad.
There are several things that are very unusual in this gamebook. First of all, the historical setting, wonderfully documented, and very rich in details, as you may already have noticed. But not everything is historicity; our protagonist is an alchemist with real magical powers, that we can use to our aid. There are supernatural forces against us, and a very ancient evil being that will appear at some point in the story. Also interesting is the fact that the book is written in the past tense. «I held my cane against the slashes of that brute…» trying to give the sense of a story being remembered by our character.
Probably the most interesting section in this book is our investigation in the Alhambra. There, we will have to look for the cure of the illness that affects the sultan’s favourite wife, across seven days. And, at the same time, look for the mysterious «Falcon». What makes this section interesting is the total freedom to go anywhere we want in the palace and its surroundings. The place we arrive to, the particular day and the time of that day (morning, evening or night), the things we have seen before that moment and the objects we have, all of these factors will dramatically change what we experience when we arrive to a place. There are several ways to solve the investigation (some of them better than others), and we can completely avoid some of the encounters. This section of the book works wonderfully well to give the sense of a real investigation in the midst of political intrigue, and it must have been very difficult to achieve by Juan Pablo. The fact that it really gives a sense of an alive and changing environment, can give an idea of the amount of work that Juan Pablo has put into it.
There are some other interesting things in this book. There’s a «flashback» in the book, where we relive a previous moment in the life of our main character. «Flashbacks» in gamebooks are really uncommon – I only found them in another spanish gamebook, «Cuando vengan a por mí» – and this one is really well done.
To sum up, this is a really good story, well documented and well written, with some very interesting and uncommon mechanics. A very good work by Juan Pablo, in my opinion, one of the most interesting and innovative gamebook authors in Spain.