Room-in-a-box, Jun 2019
Naturally, the first thing I have to mention here is the terrible missed opportunity in not calling this book Journal 30. Leaving that aside, Revelation is of course the follow-up to Journal 29, a puzzle book that managed to spawn a small sub-genre of its own. When Journal 29 was published, one of its strengths was how completely distinctive it was, in its puzzles, artwork and structure; with far more competition in the marketplace, how does its sequel measure up?
When I reviewed Journal 29 I detailed at length how the book worked; I’ll skip that this time, since if you’re reading this you’re probably well aware of all that, and the main thing you’re interested in is whether it’s worth getting the second book as well. Although Revelation follows the same style closely, there’s one important difference: it has a story. This is told in 2-4 page sections interspersed throughout the book, with seven or eight puzzles between each one.
I have to wonder whether this was added in response to criticism that the original book lacked any narrative. I read all of Revelation’s story diligently, partly because I wasn’t certain whether there were any puzzle clues hidden inside, and although the narrative was perfectly serviceable I’m not sure it added much; I’d certainly have preferred to swap the story pages for an equal number of puzzle pages. But then I quite liked the way Journal 29 hinted at only the barest outlines of a story, using only its introductory three sentences plus some recurring themes in the art and puzzle answers, leaving the reader’s imagination to connect the dots.
Still, it’s safe to say that if you liked Journal 29 you’ll like Revelation. With half a dozen competitors and imitators now available, the format is not as fresh or distinctive as it once was, but the best thing about the first book was always the whip-smart puzzles, and in Revelation it’s clear that the author has not yet run out of ideas. Dodging the twin perils of falling back on recycled ideas on one hand, and letting creativity overwhelm puzzle design on the other, the book neatly strikes a balance where it’s continually surprising but always (okay, almost always) makes complete sense once you’ve solved it.
There are a handful of weaker pages, though nothing that came close to undermining my enjoyment of the book. The choice of font is annoyingly ambiguous for some letters. But if that didn’t put you off the first one, it won’t here either.
My biggest caveat is that both Journals are challenging, and with puzzles that rely on sudden insight you’ll inevitably hit pages that seem utterly baffling; you might end up simply putting the book down and never getting round to continuing. (Of course, you also have the option of turning to the online hint forum if needed.) I highly recommend jumping forward past pages that you can’t quickly solve, where the system of solution keys allows you to do so; I also recommend tag-teaming the book with one or two others, either co-operatively or competitively.