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Book Reviews

Shakespeare never once wrote a Chooseable Path adventure book.

to be or not to be

to be or not to be – a choosable path adventure

by ryan north

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Chicks, man, am I right? They crazy,” you say.
“Yes, what IS the deal with over half the human population of the planet? They’re definitely all 100% insane,” Horatio replies sarcastically.― 

ryan northto be or not to be – a choosable path adventure


To Be or Not To Be is a choose-your-own-path version of Hamlet by New York Times best-selling author Ryan North. Play as Hamlet, Ophelia, or King Hamlet–if you want to die on the first page and play as a ghost. It’s pretty awesome! Readers can follow Yorick skull markers to stick closely to Shakespeare’s plot, or go off-script and explore alternative possibilities filled with puzzles and humor.

Each ending in the book is accompanied by a full-color, full-page illustration by one of the 65 most excellent artists working today, so each rereading yields new surprises and rewards. Ryan’s prose is, as always, colloquial and familiar but full of clever references, vivid imagination, and only the most choice of jokes. Inventive devices like a book-within-a-book (to mirror Hamlet’s play-within-a-play) take full advantage of the gamebook medium and liven up the original story for even the most disinterested of Shakespeare readers!

To Be or Not to Be became a sensation when it launched: over 15,000 people backed the book in just one month, and it remains the number-one most funded publishing project ever on

To be, or not to be: that is the adventure!

My Thoughts

William Shakespeare is, if not the greatest writer in English of all time, certainly in the top echelon. Forty plays, hundreds of poems, a sonnet style named after him. And yet, there is one large gap in his work.

Shakespeare never once wrote a Chooseable Path adventure book.

Luckily, Ryan North managed to help him out with To Be Or Not To Be.

To Be Or Not To Be uses plenty of North’s whimsy to retell one of the most depressing stories of all time. There are small skulls through the book if you’d like to follow the story as Shakespeare laid it out for you.

You don’t even need to play as Hamlet. You can play as his father, and die almost immediately (and then get the choice as to whether or not you want to become a ghost) or Ophelia.

For what it’s worth, my few recent run-throughs have included King Hamlet the Ghost becoming an underwater explorer (because ghosts don’t breathe, nor can they be crushed by water, so why not?) Hamlet passing out on seeing his father, Hamlet tripping over Horatio, hitting a rock, and waking up months later with nothing bad having happened, and Ophelia hanging out with her best friend Dromiceiomimus (this last one being a trick is the truest tragedy this book has.)

Ophelia becomes a much more dynamic and capable character in this, rather than the wilting flower of the play. She’s secretly a brilliant scientist, and her ‘madness’ in the play is her acting mad to uncover the plots revolving around Elsinore, just like Hamlet’s doing.

This isn’t getting into all the twists of the book, of course. Follow the original play path and you can find the hidden ‘Murder of Gonzago’ play within a play. There’s also a mathematical puzzle that, if solved, will lead you to a separate storyline.

North hired a number of webcomic artists to illustrate the book, with great results. These including Kate Beaton of Hark! A Vagrant (one of my personal favorites) who drew the art for when you choose your character as well as the last picture in the book, which mocks you for attempting to read the last page first. Andrew Hussie of Homestuck did all the art for the Murder of Gonzago play within a play. Brandon Bird put in a random picture near the beginning of the book. Within the text, each ‘the end’ has a full-page illustration detailing what happened, with over sixty artists including Kris Straub, Mike Krahulik aka Gabe from Penny Arcade, Danielle Corsetto, and Faith Erin Hicks.

Ryan North would return to helping out Shakespeare with his lack of Chooseable Path adventures with Romeo And/Or Juliet and Shakespeare Punches a Friggin’ Shark.

Ryan Howse

I’m funnier without context.

Okay, you want context.

I’m a mid-30s nerd, married, with two kids. Also two cats–Cathulhu and Necronomicat.
I like, in no particular order, tabletop gaming, board games, arguing over books, ancient history and religion, and puns.
I’m unconundrum on reddit.

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