There are moments in my reading life that are etched into my memory, the emotions that I felt while reading them still clear as a bell even after many, many years have gone past. I remember as a kid, eight years old, living with his dad in Australia, a copy of a book of stories by Manley Wade Wellman. I remember reading it under the covers with a torch and being whisked away to the Appalachian mountains to travel the roads with Silver Strings John. Then at twelve, back home in England, reading a copy of The Shining, feeling the terror of the little boy while wishing that I too had psychic powers and could see dead people. At fourteen I discovered Robert E Howards Conan The Adventurer and the Lands of Hyborea beckoned and how I longed to be barbarian, a decent man among worthless civilised scum. The list goes on, the authors growing fewer and further between. The last, before discovering Appendix N, was Octavia Butler just over a year ago. I loved her Pattern Master stories. Maybe it wasn’t with the depth of Howard or Wellman, but you can’t expect that at 40+ can you?
Life just doesn’t work like that.
Then I started reading Merritt, and something within me awakened. I read Burroughs and it stretched. And then I read Leigh Brackett and it woke up, slapped me silly and reminded me that I was alive godammit and that worlds of wonder were still out there, begging to be found and brought back into being once more. Ye Gods, it felt amazing.
You know what’s coming, SPOILERS AHEAD folks!
Now, there are in this world writers. People that put words on the page to create fiction. Some of them are good, some of them are great but the best of them, the very very best of them, are Storytellers. Leigh Brackett was a storyteller in every ounce of her being. This is abundantly clear in The Sword of Rhiannon. I read it through in two hours. Then again in three, paying much closer attention. Then, yesterday I took it apart, examined it like a mechanic lucky enough to work on Ferrari. The story is a thing of beauty, it has a life of its own and every piece of it works perfectly.
Brackett takes her hero and puts him through the mill. Sealed in a tomb, sent back millions of years in time, where he is then attacked by a mob, robbed and then press-ganged onto a ship. And that’s all in the first quarter of the book. There is no time wasted, Brackett takes your hand and drags you along with Carse all along his journey and she never, ever makes him seem safe because he’s the hero. He’s up that tree and the rocks are coming thick and fast.
The villain of the piece is a kingdom wrapped up in a person, Lady Ywain. Again, Brackett doesn’t go the easy route and make her a central casting villain. Nope, more fleshing out, consistency and reasoning behind everything she does. She’s a strong woman doing bad things because that’s what you do when your kingdom is relying on you. Her journey is every bit as fascinating as Carses, and every bit as satisfying when you reach the destination.
Stand out bits? The God Rhiannon setting up camp in Carses mind. Boghaz the shameless thief. The internal consistency of the time-related mechanics. The end scene that leaves you wanting and wishing that this was a series. The way that the dialogue whips and snaps along at a hundred miles an hour, with literally nothing to take you out of the moment.
Everything is so clearly written that it is literally a joy to read. I can honestly say that I will be reading everything of Brackett’s that I can find. And, seeing as how I can’t watch this on the big screen, I’ll be watching El Dorado instead. Apparently, it’s the one with John Wayne, and not the animated one. Who knew?
Thanks for letting me bend your ear once again,