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Murder at the Royal Court, September 8, 2021
Father Leofwine, the King's councillor and Queen's confessor, has been brutally murdered! Somewhat unexpectedly, the King chooses Cynehelm, his Tax Collector, to surreptitiously investigate the matter.
Cynehelm in his turn recruits an accomplice, Wulf, to do the stealthy legwork while he talks to the eoldarmen himself.
I love historical detectives. The (static fiction) books about Gordianus the Finder (Steven Saylor) and Brother Cadfael (Ellis Peeters) have brought me many hours of joy. From the first paragraph, I knew this game was right up my alley.
Father Leofwine is Dead begins with an intruiging "locked room" murder mystery and spreads out through the Castle, even the City. The story has two protagonists, and you alternate making choices for them. The different characters and social stations of the protagonists lets you see the the investigation through two different viewpoints, as Cynehelm is a member of the King's closest entourage, and Wulf is more at home in the backstreets and dark alleys.
I found it very well written and truly engaging. I'm not a completist in story-games, I will not go back and see all the different branches of what-could-have-happened. (I'll go back a page if I die unexpectedly, but I won't replay to see all the text.) This approach immersed me deeply in the story, laying a weight on each choice so it had to be seriously considered. To aid the player in choosing, there are many clues laid out in this story's pages. The mystery of course demands that the player differentiates between important clues and dead-end paths, a tricky but doable task in this game.
The writing is very good. There's a nice rhythm to the sentences and the historical atmosphere comes through without laying it on too thick. The suspense is sustained (even turned up) throughout the story, maybe even a bit too much. Perhaps one or two resting spots would have allowed me to catch my breath before diving in again.
The layout is great, the pages are the right length to draw the reader in while still presenting important choices to signal a new beat.
Some small nitpicks:
-I found it disorienting that the story is told from the 3rd person perspective of one of the protagonists, but that some of the choices inconsistently refer to a 2nd person "you". Either this is a remnant of the 2nd person IF-convention that slipped through, or it is a deliberate breaking of the fourth wall, acknowledging the player as the real decision maker. If the latter, it did not succeed as a style choice for me. If anyhting, it felt jarring to be adressed as player in a story I had been reading "from above".
-The writing is very good. Therefore, the typos are all the more grating. I reckon one per page. Pity.
Very, very intruiging historical mystery.