Apologies for taking more than four months to post this review of the tenth and penultimate installment of Edgar Rice Burroughs' Barsoom (Mars to you and me) series, 1948's Llana of Gathol, after my entry on the previous novel, Synthetic Men of Mars came out. No, Llana wasn't a tough read. Anything but.
Made up of four novellas that appeared in the Amazing Stories pulp magazine between March and October,1941, and were edited together into one coherent, if episodic, narrative, Llana of Gathol's focus is on our old pal John Carter again. Seems a desire on Carter's part to get away from it all sets the novel's events in motion.
After leaving his home city of Helium, Carter gets lost and winds up encountering a number of bizarre characters, starting with the "Ancient Dead" of Horz, various persons who have been in suspended animation and held captive by a crazed madman, who tries to do the same to Carter and his newfound ally, Pan Dan Chee. It's there that Carter is reunited with his grandaughter, Llana of Gathol, who joins our heroes as Carter tries to make his way back to Helium.
Llana informs Carter that the evil Hin Abtol had kidnapped her, but she managed to escape to Horz. Subsequently, throughout the book, Hin Abtol manages to provide the narrative hook, as his performing one selfish and evil act after another (stealing Carter's flier, attacking the city of Gathol, etc.) propels our heroes from one incident to the next.
Along the way, Carter and company (Llana, despite a strong personality, takes a back seat to most of the action; even her budding romance with Pan Dan Chee is downplayed) encounter old enemies the Black Pirates, try to save Gathol by inflitrating Hin Abtol's forces, and deal with the invisible warriors of the Barsoomian city of Invak. In between, the characters get taken prisoner quite a lot and Carter finds himself having to duel several times with various adversaries, before finally taking down Hin Abtol.
Llana of Gathol is a wild ride from start to finish. Burroughs has fun revisiting old territory (the energetic duels and chases, the heroine constantly getting kidnapped; Carter's namechecking of previous adventures) and there's a lot of sly humor (Carter in disguise passes himself off to the people of Invak as a ruler known as "the Sultan of Swat", which indicates that his several visits back to Earth made him a baseball fan). A wonderfully entertaining and enthusiastically infectious read from start to finish!
Up next: The last two installments of the series, the controversal "John Carter and the Giant of Mars" and the exciting "Skeleton Men of Jupiter" (no, that's not a typo), collected in John Carter of Mars, which wasn't published until thirteen years after Burroughs' death!
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