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Swords of Waar by Nathan Long

This review of Swords of Waar by Nathan Long (Night Shade Books, 2012) is a little complicated so, taking out my barbarian sword, I’m going to cut through to the bone and start with a peremptory instruction.

If you have not read Jane Carver of Waar, read my review (the link is at the bottom of the page). You should read that book first. In a perfect world of books in series, you should always read the first one in the trilogy/series before going on to the second. But suppose you want to be daring, push the envelope just a little, you could read this one first. If you think that’s the edgy thing to do go, read the review of Jane of Waar and substitute this title. Everything I said in general terms about the first and its relationship to Edgar Rice Burroughs applies to this.

If you have read Jane of Waar, I need to clear the air with a brief recital of my reading experience of this Jane Carver sequel. It starts with an, “Oh, God,” which is pretty strong stuff for an atheist like me, “this is just more of the same,” yada yada, “more ERB pastiche,” yada yada, “been there, done that, got the chain-mail T-shirt.” And then about one-third, or perhaps closer to halfway, through I suddenly realised that the initial lack of innovation in the style and the sacrifice of plot originality in repeating the “return to Waar” trope — as in The Gods of Mars by ERB — didn’t matter. I was actually reading a very clever story. Yes, friends, I was seduced by the quality of the narrative into liking this ERB-style stuff all over again.

Nathan Long channelling a biker chick

It’s fucking humiliating, that’s what it is! How can I actually like reading an updated version of period crap, particularly when Nathan Long shot his bolt on the pastiche front in the first book?

Well I like it because it takes itself seriously when it comes to developing a credible plot in an incredible situation. The problem with ERB-style books is usually that the plot is subservient to the pursuit of female pulchritude by excessively muscled heroes with the slaughter of various monsters on the way to the several climaxes and a big fuck-up narrowly avoided at the end. This is not to say there’s no baby-making at or near the end. Under normal circumstances, the relevant couples are insatiable whenever the opportunity presents itself (although the language describing the couplings is usually allusive rather than direct). But the standard ending is disaster narrowly averted or, in some books, the hero being sent back to Earth before he can consolidate his position (that’s Karma Sutra position XXXVI, of course). Ah, yes, I should mention that apart from the fairly extensive use of the verb and adjectival forms of “fuck”, there’s less sexual activity in Swords of Waar than in the first book. This time our happy couple are having cross-cultural problems about how to define their relationship.

She’s made her declaration of love and just wants to get on with life. He’s also declared love but it’s not quite love as biker chicks understand it. Waar’s version of love is one of these deeply sexist social constructs Chaucer would have approved in which the women stay at home and allow the men to do what they do best. The fact this would usually involve dying at an early age after bedding multiple mistresses is not something lost on our heroine. Indeed, it’s her proactive approach to the relationship that’s causing the cultural problem. If her man is in danger, she has no compunction about literally picking him up and carrying him out of danger. Needless to say, he finds this public loss of dignity difficult to accept, what with his code requiring him to be the one doing the carrying. The fact he couldn’t lift her off the ground is not something he would choose to consider when his honour is at stake. Put another way, this social dinosaur needs to get with the flow and let our Earth heroine do her thing, save the planet and bed the man (that’s him, of course). Anyway, this enforced celibacy is good for her soul if not for other parts of her.

Of course, our couple are reunited physically at the end and, as must happen in all ERB-style books, there’s lots of heels kicking and penetrations into the nether regions. That’s after a planetary-scale ejaculation that comes as a result of our heroine’s caresses of the right knobs and buttons. Indeed, in terms of the passage of the years, the eruptions are not at all premature but rather timely. So this is a wonderfully enjoyable romp through the science fantasy landscape except Swords of Waar actually has a brain at work. As we take our journey, we get to consider whether courtly love is good for anything when the majority of the people is oppressed (or people with guns are shooting at you) and whether omnipotent rulers are ever a good thing, even when benignly inclined. In a sense, it all comes down to a simple question. Should the people be allowed to make their own mistakes or should an unaccountable elite group make the mistakes for them? The answer is fun to read.

For a review of the other Jane Carver book, see Jane Carver of Waar.

A copy of this book was sent to me for review.

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  1. November 13, 2012 at 1:26 pm

    Loved those John Carter books–of course I was twelve at the time. Tried to re-read them recently and found less there than I remember…

    • November 13, 2012 at 1:41 pm

      I read ERB extensively during the 1950s and found them naive but enjoyable. Insofar as such a thing is possible or desirable, Nathan Long is writing postmodern ERB or just writing a heck of a lot better than most of the others who have tried to write this type of story. Both books are fun but more so if you can remember the originals.

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