The Short Version: Maybe you think you know the story of Romeo and Juliet… but do you really? Do you know about the part with the robot suits? Or the time that Juliet got super buff? What about a version where they don’t even die at all, not even a little? Write your own version(s) of the classic story with seriously thousands of possible outcomes!
The Review: I missed the boat, somehow, on Ryan North’s delightful original choose-your-own-adventure (or, sorry, “chooseable-path adventure”) Shakespeare, To Be or Not to Be: That is the Adventure. Friends have copies and there’s even one floating around my office – but I never really picked it up and played, just flipped around and admired the pretty pictures. OH WHAT I WAS MISSING!
Romeo and/or Juliet is exactly what it sounds like: you get to choose between young Capulet and young Montague and then the choices continue and multiply (or don’t) to (maybe) infinity. The jacket copy promises quadrillions of possible outcomes and even after trying really freakin’ hard to get through as much of the book as possible – pausing and going down individual plot lines before looping back to a pivotal decision point, skipping over the bits I already knew, even one time just opening to a random page and starting there (YEAH I DID IT, SO WHAT?!) – I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface of what’s actually possible. Along the way I discovered some shorter chooseable-path adventures by Christina Marlowe (GASP) covering Midsummer and Macbeth, I played as the Nurse for a while (including completing a dope a side-quest), I had the couple never even meet each other a few times – I even found Iago in there and tried to play as him!
Ryan North’s authorial voice is… well, it’s exactly what you’d expect for somebody who came up with the idea to do a choose-your-own-adventure Shakespeare and I like to think it’s what Shakespeare would’ve wanted. That guy was quick with a dick joke and not at all above including some subversive cultural commentary, so why shouldn’t someone adapting him (or, as Ryan notes in the introduction of this book, it was really Shakespeare who read this book and the path that he ended up choosing was the one that became the play) have the same amount of fun? The laughs-per-page of this book are truly incalculable and will appeal to wildly different audiences – like, your grumpy old dad and your grumpy old Shakespeare professor and your younger sibling’s snotty friend and your hairdresser and your dog will all find something to laugh about here. Maybe even the same things, which would be nice for world peace, etc – but they’ll at least find something for themselves.
The book is also festooned with artwork from pretty much everybody. Like, seriously: name a current cartoonist of the internets and they’ve probably got an illustration in here somewhere – it’s a cast of hundreds (or at least, like, a hundred-ish) and while I knew some on sight, there were plenty whose work made me say “oooh, and what do you do?” before flipping to the almost-end and attempting to discover that answer.
My only qualm with the book – and I’ll note that I got over this pretty quickly – is that the pagination isn’t, uh, traditional. The book is like 399 pages long and the number of possible stops along your adventure is 476. Perhaps it’s been too long since I last read a choose-your-own adventure book… but I thought the traditional way was “turn to page X”. Which is just, you know, a little confusing, when you look down and the page numbers say something like “289-291”. It also means that there’s a little bleedthrough, at times, of other adventures and moments of story – just as your eye happens to glance across the page to find the middle number or something. It doesn’t spoil anything, any more than flipping through the book to find the next page would – but it does take a moment to get used to, in terms of the structure and format of the book itself. And get used to it I did; I’ve left the book now on our coffee table and find myself often picking it up to have an adventure before work or bed or laundry or whatever. And I can’t wait for the reprint (because it matches) of To Be or Not to Be – because who doesn’t love making decisions in an historically indecisive story?!
Rating: 5 out of 5. Yeah it might seem like it’s a bit of a gimmick at first and that’s because it is – but it’s a damn good gimmick. No joke, I would read a Chooseable-Path Adventure of every single one of Shakespeare’s 37-ish plays. Indeed, I already kinda got to do that with a few more than I expected when I picked up Romeo and/or Juliet – and I also got to see Juliet become a pirate, Romeo kill a whole bunch of people (who he wasn’t supposed to) as well as get killed like a hundred ways, the two of them living happily with robot suits, the two of them living happily and owning a gym, and the two of them dying all kinds of times because, well, that’s what happened. SPOILERS, I guess.
Anyway. If you like fun, Shakespeare, pretty drawings, or all three… this is for you! GO GET IT NOW!