Monday, December 28, 2015
Book Review: 'The Lerios Mecca' by Gene Lancour
5 / 5 Stars
'The Lerios Mecca' (180 pp) was published in hardback by Doubleday / Science Fiction Book Club in 1973; the cover artwork is by Gary Friedman.
'Lerios' is the first book in the so-called 'Dirshan the Godkiller' series; the other volumes are The War Machines of Kalinth (1977), Sword for the Empire (1978), and The Man-Easters of Cascalon (1979).
[As best as I can tell, none of the 'Dirshan' volumes ever were printed in paperback.]
'Gene Lancour' was the pseudonym used by the U.S. writer Gene Fisher (b. 1947), who published a number of sf and general fiction books in the 70s and 80s. More recently (i.e., 2015), he has published the first volume, The Perils of Puryas, in a new fantasy series titled 'Tales of the Waste'.
Lancour lists Robert E. Howard as one of his literary inspirations, and the Dirshan series is a Conan pastiche. But while Dirshan is as physically imposing as Conan, he is also something more than a simple Conan clone. For one thing, Dirshan is a bit brighter than Howard's character, and not so invulnerable; he rarely emerges from combat unscathed. As a consequence, Dirshan prefers to utilize strategy, rather than wild sword-swinging, when confronting his adversaries.
The Dirshan series takes place in a Howardian Bronze-Age world, where the Kingdom of Alithar struggles to maintain its status as a world power in the face of uprisings from both rebellious tribes, and foreign polities.
As 'Lerios' opens, Dirshan regains consciousness after being knocked out during a brutal battle with the Tuqua, a tribe of desert raiders. Only one other man has survived, but he is dying, and he holds Dirshan to a deathbed vow: the Tuqua raiding party was led by a man belonging to the Order, the religious sect that dominates Alithar's government. Dirshan swears to find and kill the Order member, whose leadership of the Tuqua represents an act of treachery.
After forming in an alliance with an Order spymaster, Dirshan embarks on a lengthy quest to cross the vast El-Arwim desert, a wasteland populated by bandits and wracked by dust storms.
If Dirshan is successful in making the crossing of the desert, things will hardly get easier, for ahead lurk pirates, and the nomads of the grasslands, who give no quarter. But Dirshan will not face these dangers alone; his allies Princess Karinth, and the sage Teos, will join him on his quest.
And then there is the mysterious castle of Harras, secreted within a mountain redoubt. Harras, where the knowledge of the ancients is carefully guarded from misuse. There, Dirshan will be offered a gift that few other men are offered........but nothing comes without its price......
'The Lerios Mecca' is a well-written and engaging sword-and-sorcery novel, superior to those churned out by other Conan pastiche writers like Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter. The fantasy elements, while present, are comparatively subdued, leaving the narrative focused on the interplay between Dirshan and his allies, and their skillful tactics when confronting numerically superior enemies