Review: To Be or Not To Be

To Be or Not To Be: A Chooseable-Path AdventureTo Be or Not To Be: A Chooseable-Path Adventure
by Ryan North

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

To Be or Not To Be / B00ECJN7T6

How much do I like this book? I will tell you. I like this book so much that even though I participated in the Kickstarter for the book and got a paper copy AND an electronic copy in four different electronic formats, I still bought the Kindle version before writing this review just to make absolutely sure that this book will follow me around on my Kindle account for the rest of my life or until the heat death of the universe (whichever comes first).

If you like the fun and zany humor in Ryan North's "Dinosaur Comics", you will probably love this. It's not just that the idea of a Choose-Your-Own-Path Hamlet re-telling is delightful to me (though it truly is), there's also a wonderful amount of off-the-wall humor that tickles my funny bone to the core. I haven't read through the entire book (I think there are officially 3,001,181,439,094,525 different paths through this amazingly-densely-packed adventure of awesomeness), but I have read through huge chunks of the Ophelia adventure, and I loved every moment of it. Seriously.

The thing I like most about Ryan North's writing style is that he manages to hit that perfect zany-random-Monty-Python style humor that I love while still being progressive and not relying on tired old sexist stereotypes or gross-out humor. Not only does the reader get to go through as Ophelia (AWESOME), but she's also a "capital-s Science" major (Hamlet is, of course, a "capital-u Undeclared", natch), she's taller than Hamlet, and she also (if you take the appropriate path!) manages to invent thermometers and central heating, all without feeling like a gimmick or a 2-dimensional character. It's really amazing to see someone write a humorous strong female character who also comes off as totally real and delightfully relatable. I DEMAND THAT MORE HUMOR AUTHORS DO THIS! But in the meantime, we can all read Ryan North's masterpiece and stew at that jerk William Shakespeare for ripping Ryan off so badly. (Like, seriously, I don't think Shakespeare included the science major stuff at all. Boo.)

Back to the book! The PDF version of this baby has 768 pages, and it's jam-packed with gorgeous full-color illustrations. (These are rendered in black-and-white on my Kindle Paperwhite, but they still look detailed and beautiful.) And speaking of eReaders, this is the cleanest, bestest formatted ebook I have ever owned, bar-none. I was really concerned about how the Kindle would work with a Choose-Your-Own-Path book, but it works even better than paper -- Ryan and his team of professional formatting ninjas have linked everything beautifully in a visual style that works intuitively well, and also the Kindle's "back" button lets you skip back not just to your previous choice but to ALL your previous nested choices, one by one. I can't say how awesome that is when you want to go back to five choices ago to try something else, so instead I will just say that I have now experienced save-scumming while reading a book in order to beat Queen Gertrude in a deadly chess match. Aw yeah.

I don't want to spoil too much of the book, but some passages just beg to be shared. So I will leave you with my favorite-so-far ending just for hilarious audacity, and that would be the ending where I-as-Ophelia convince Hamlet that murdering people for revenge is a vicious cycle and instead we should put Claudius in prison for regicide, which netted me THIS ending: "So! Turns out you scored a possible 100 out of 100 in LEGAL JUSTICE POINTS but unfortunately you only got, like, a 3 in ADVENTURE POINTS. Man, that's baloney! That's what you get for working within the pre-existing legal system instead of employing unpredictable vigilante adventurism, am I right??"

This is an awesome book. If you like Hamlet or humor or zany Choose-Your-Own-Path books or would just like to see an example of a strong female character not only DONE RIGHT but done right in a humorous setting where she is just as awesome and funny and real as all the other characters, then YOU WILL LIKE THIS BOOK. And if you have any reservations about getting a CYOP book on the Kindle, I can officially testify that this book is well-formatted like the crown jewels are shiny, which is to say VERY.

~ Ana Mardoll


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