"You are Jaimie, a young villager with a love for the enchanted forest that everyone else fears. Will you find the secret power that now rules Castle Pentegarn?" --from the back cover.
Endless Quest Book 3 is another Rose Estes authored tale, and it is a good, solid installment of the series, despite having both major flaws of the EQ series. The 'you' in the book is an unseasoned kid, and you have not one but TWO talking animal sidekicks (and a treant, but it doesn't get to go on the adventure).
You, as Jaimie, are hanging out in the woods with the cleverly named Fox, Owl and Tree when some goblins happen to come along. You hide from them, they throw a few spears into Tree and Owl, then go along their merry way chasing a group of adventurers you saw headed for the ruins of Castle Pentegarn.
Problem #1 with the book is that the first choice is not really a choice at all. Do you wish to warn the adventurers or just go home? I hate choices like this, as it's obvious that going home will lead to a quick ending. It's a wasted page and a wasted choice. I get the feeling Ms. Estes threw it in there just because there are so many pages of introduction before you get to the first real choice of the book.
Anyway, assuming you don't wuss out and run home like a baby, you go to the ruins and meet with kindly but weakling wizard and former king Pentegarn, his burly Fighter Baltek, and sexy Elven Thief Lydia. You've got to get to the evil Master who rules the ruins (I don't think there's any relation to the Master of the Desert Nomads). You're given your first real choice--follow Pentegarn's idea to get some powerful magic items, follow Baltek's idea to assault the keep, follow Lydia's idea to sneak up to the tower, or come up with your own idea.
One cool thing about the book is that several times you're given choices to fall back and pick another path if you think it's too dangerous to press on. This gives the book a bit more of a 'sandbox' feel to it.
Also cool is that you have an actual adventuring party. And there are several of different 'good' endings which allow for some of the companions to bite the dust along the way. This contributes to the sandbox feel, and is just cool in general for a kids' book. And it's very D&D.
The Master has a limited set of monsters at his disposal. Goblins, Skeletons, Wolves and Bats. It's on the cover so it's no surprise that there's also an animated dragon skeleton in the ruins as well. With a limited palette of monsters, they can be a bit repetitive. Especially as certain paths from different ways will converge, meaning you might end up reading the same encounter multiple times on what started as separate ways through.
Overall, despite its flaws, Pillars of Pentegarn is a good book, and a solid part of the series. It's not quite as good as Dungeon of Dread, but it has an evocative and interesting setting, a good cast of mixed characters, a somewhat more free-form exploration feel, and some cool situations and ideas to plunder. On the down side, you've got a child protagonist, two annoying talking animals (who thankfully seem to disappear in certain paths, at least until the ending), and a limited number of monster types to go up against. I think the best way to use this book as a teaching tool for kids learning to play RPGs is in its value as a mini-sandbox, showing that it's okay to double back, retreat, and try other options. It also shows some good strategies for tackling dungeons (attack, sneak, magic, or using wits).
Protagonist: A child who can talk to animals, develops some capability as the story progresses.
Sidekicks: A pair of bickering talking animals, one reckless the other dull.
Adventure: Moody and tense in many areas, but somewhat repetitive.
Artwork: Very good. Elmore cover, and Harry J. Quinn interiors.
Endings: Varied, with multiple good endings. Some are a little too easy to get to if you make the right choices, however.
Overall: Very Good