The Sword of Rhiannon (Planet Stories Library) Paperback – 12 May 2009
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Top customer reviews
From there a rousing tale follows - a mixture of magic and technology, of winged men and fearsome monsters, and a femme who is most definitely fatale. This is old-time planetary romance, with swords and beam weapons and slave-driven galleys coursing across a glittering sea. In the background is Rhiannon, a being (god?) of fearsome power who has a definate interest in Carse. Whether Rhiannon is friend or foe is unclear - and actually, who are friends and foes in this distant past is always murky.
This is Brackett, so there is keen dialogue with a witty sidekick, stunning cinematic scenery, and a gritty edge to everything. Its easy to see how this could be adapted to the big screen, and to an extent I am surprised no one tried.
On the face of it they are very similar in time, locale, dress, and weaponry,but there it all diverges.The ERB offerings written decades earlier, swash their buckles in a much more vehement way, whilst weaving some deceptively complicated plot twists into the mix, together with a plethora of new critters and races, factions and gadgets.
This story and possibly the following ones based loosely on its' basic ideas ( though I haven't read any yet), provide the proverbial good read, but not as good as I'd been led to expect. It's quite fast paced and full of good stuff, but not really 5 star.
The book is strangely shifted in time. You could imagine Mr Boroughs reading this and thinking there were some damned good ideas in it to develop into a successor to the Tarzan stories, but not the other way round. Miss Brackett seems to have avoided a charge of outright plagiarism by an act of literary devolution.True, it's all a bit more polished, and well written than typical Boroughs fare (for a given value of "well", it depends on taste I suppose), but nothing in it is as vivid or entertaining as ERB.
If like me you're an SF fan from the days of "Forbidden Planet" and "Astounding Science Fiction" that somehow missed reading this the first time around, and wonder what all the fuss was about, get it. You'll probably enjoy it despite what I've said. If you're a newbie to the genre, this is as good a place to start as any.
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This really is a gem. Written before Sci-Fi and Fantasy really became substantial genres of their own, the summary of this sounds Sci-Fi but really is Fantasy. The Mars milieu features little technology; in fact, it is almost exclusively populated with fantasy creatures ("halflings" that are like reminiscent of harpies, mermaids, and man-serpents) and fantasy/historic technology (swords, pirate ships); there is a lack of laser guns and air-ships. Actually, the technology that enables some interesting time/space travel is rooted in a Lovecraftian Mythos magic associated with an elder race (Quiro).
Our protagonist is Carse, an archaeologist/criminal who is very "Indiana Jones" like (of course this was created long before Indy Jones hit theaters). The titular Sword of Rhiannon is revealed from the start to Carse; it had been hidden for centuries in a tomb, so it was rumored, and he quickly finds the tomb from which it came as sought treasure to loot. His adventure begins as he comes into contact with eldritch forces...
The adventure is high throttle action from start to finish. The reader learns more of the curse of Rhiannon. However, there is a rich history and dynamics between cultures that are not fully realized. I would have enjoyed experiencing more of: the initial/future perspective on Rhiannon's past, the Dhuvian's oppression of others, the demonstration of Rhiannon's power(s), the demonstration of the Sword's power or purpose...
Brackett's prose is deeper and more poetic than one expects from pulpy Sword & Planet. Here is an excerpt:
"It was a long way to the city. Carse moved at a steady plodding pace. He did not try to find the easiest path but rammed his way through and over all obstacles, never deviating from the straight line that led to Jekkara. His cloak hampered him and he tore it off. His face was empty of all expression but sweat ran down his cheeks and mingled with the salt of tears.
He walked between two worlds. He went through valleys drowsing in the heat of the summer day, where leafy branches of strange trees raked his face and the juice of crushed grasses stained his sandals. Life, winged and furred and soft of foot, fled from him with a stir and a rustle. And yet he knew that he walked in a desert, where even the wind had forgotten the names of the dead for whom it mourned.
He crossed high ridges, where the sea lay before him and he could hear the boom of the surf on the beaches. And yet he saw only a vast dead plain, where the dust ran in little wavelets among the dry reefs. The truths of thirty years living are not easily forgotten."
This book is very well done but feels like four servings of a five-course-meal. It is a quick read and well worth it, but apparently this is a stand alone adventure. This novel could easily have been inflated to 2x its length without departing from its pulp-adventure roots (i.e., it would not become filler-saturated epic fantasy). Brackett did write more Sword and Planet, but not with Carse.
The Sword of Rhiannon is a planetary adventure novel which takes place on Mars. This is not the Mars we know today with little air, but the one of 1940's, where it was still assumed to have canals and a breathable atmosphere. This is the same Mars which would figure so eloquently into Ray Bradbury and Edgar Rice Burroughs stories. Here, Mars is a place of exotic landscapes which offers the terrestrial traveler the chance for adventure and redemption.
The book begins with Matthew Carse and appears to be set in the near future. Carse has come to Mars as an archeologist and is studying the lost civilizations of the planet. Most of the scenery is arid, the vast oceans of Mars haven dried-up millenia ago. One night a tomb robber lures him outside the city boundaries where he is living to examine an undiscovered find. The tomb, the robber explains, is that of Rhiannon, the ancient and accursed bringer of knowledge to the humanoid races of Mars. Carse finds the tomb, but falls into an inter-dimensional void holding the sword from the tomb. When he emerges from the void, he still finds himself inside the tomb, but the Mars outside in the one which existed a million years ago.
Trapped in the past, he makes his way back to the city, which is now a port town on a vast ocean. He's rescued from a mob who thinks he's a foreign spy. But his saviour, a fat thief named Boghaz, has recognized the sword Carse is carrying as being the legendary one belonging to Rhiannon. He tries to steal it for himself, but both men are captured by the city guard and press-ganged into service as galley slaves on a royal ship. The vessel is carrying the haughty Princess Ywain of Sark on a diplomatic mission to one of her father's allies in their continual war against the Sea-King freebooters. Eventually, Lady Ywain recognizes the sword and what it represents. Her actions set-off a chain of events which involve Carse leading a mutiny on the ship and joining up with the Sea-Kings. However, Carse is aware of a phantom presence which has been inside his mind since he left the tomb.
Brackett's style is romantic and atmospheric. She writes of women walking along the canals with bells tinkling in the evening. Of the Martian moons rising over the seas. Her characters have names such as "Ironbeard". Mars is a place for mythic transformation in her mind. It's the Mars of Lawrence of Arabia and The Man Who Would Be King. Since she was writing in the 1940's, you can feel a the lure of exotic lands in her descriptions.
Her characters are multi-faceted too. The archaeologist who ends up leading a war ship. The thief who becomes a great leader. And the princess humbled by the eloquence of a man from distant lands. I'm surprised this short novel doesn't have a better following.
The Sword Of Rhiannon is an epic science fantasy tale. It ranks with the best works of Robert E Howard and Charles Saunders.
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