Swords of Mars
Edgar Rice Burroughs
This is the eight entry in Edgar Rice Burroughs Barsoom Series (AKA the John Carter of Mars series) and it continues the trend set in book seven… the trend of bucking the trend…
The first six books were more or less carbon copies of each other — a man loves a woman of higher class than him, she gets kidnapped, he rescues her, and they get married. Book seven, A Fighting Man of Mars, finally broke the trend by putting a spin on it — after rescuing the woman, the man finds out she’s a real bitch. It was enjoyable.
This one continues the trend of bucking the trend by starting with an entirely different premise — a woman doesn’t get kidnapped until about halfway through. The story opens with John Carter going undercover to the city of Zodanga to eliminate a guild of assassins by assassinating them. (Apparently the solution to too many assassins is to employ super-assassins to assassinate the assassins. Yeah. Sounds like the NRA’s line about how the solution to gun violence is more guns.) Anyway, issues aside, the story is different and refreshing, as John Carter evades assassination attempts and instead assassinates the assassins. We also have an interesting plot developing about interstellar travel — John Carter enters the employ of a man constructing a mind-powered rocket ship, trying to outdo a fellow scientists with his own rocket ship.
A number of things happen and eventually the head of the assassins’ guild, along with the second scientist with a rocket ship, kidnaps Dejah Thoris (John Carter’s wife) and flies to one of Mars’s moons. John Carter, along with a soldier and a girl he’s rescued, steals the second rocket ship and flies off in pursuit. From there, we get some of the usual John Carter stuff — a strange new people with strange customs based on a strange religion (though there is FAR less religion bashing in this book) who are determined to kill John Carter, Dejah Thoris, and all others with them. And, like always, the key to getting out of it is for John Carter to team up with a mismatched group of people.
In addition to the very different storyline (though it still has several similar elements), the element I most enjoyed was the teaming up. Usually, John Carter, or whoever the lead male is, teams up with good people from all walks of life — in this book, Carter teams up with his mortal enemy, for they realise that they will not get out of this if they are still against each other.
The writing of this entry was smooth and well-paced. The last several volumes have been uneven — some have read more like summaries with little depth, and others have gone on way too long on pointless stuff — this one was just right.
It can be hard to maintain a series for several books, much less the eight I’m at so far, much less the dozen that the entire series runs for, but it seems Edgar Rice Burroughs has revived the series by bringing fresh energy and life to it. If it had continued on as the first six books did, my interest would have dwindled, but Burroughs has made just the right amount of changes to grip me again.
Swords of Mars also sees the return of John Carter as the lead hero after having taken a very passive role for several novels. The last four were led by other characters with John Carter usually appearing no more than for a few paragraphs. While the other viewpoints offered some variety to the series, John Carter is the strongest narrator that Burroughs has created so far and is best suited to carrying the series. Speaking of John Carter, I found that his character matured a bit in this book — in earlier entries, he would swing his sword first and ask questions later. Now, John Carter knows the value of patience and timing. He is less quick to act because he has learned that a well-timed strike is often far more effective than a hasty strike.
Swords of Mars is an excellent achievement in the series and, if this and the previous novel are any indication, hopefully it’s a sign of even better things to come.