Thursday, January 27, 2022

Book Review: The Sword of Morning Star

Book Review: 'The Sword of Morning Star' by Richard Meade
5 / 5 Stars

In the aftermath of the publication of 'Conan the Adventurer' by Lancer Books in 1966, the market for sword-and-sorcery paperbacks burgeoned, and soon all manner of titles were competing for space on the racks. 

Wishing to take advantage of this sales phenomenon, Signet Books released two novels by Richard Meade: 'The Sword of Morning Star' and 'Exile's Quest', these constituting the so-called 'Gray Lands' series. 
'Richard Meade' was one of several pseudonyms used by the North Carolina-born writer Ben Haas (1926 - 1977). According to a post at Lynn Munroe Books, during the 60s and 70s Haas was a prolific author of paperbacks in a variety of genres, including westerns, where he wrote 20 of the 23 novels in the 'Fargo' series. 

Haas's posthumous autobiography, titled 'A Hack's Notebook', is available at amazon.

'The Sword of Morning Star' (144 pp., January, 1969) features cover art by Jeff Jones.

The novel is set in the mythical medieval Kingdom of Boorn, where Helmut, the illegitimate twelve year-old son of the recently deceased King Sigrieth, becomes a pawn in a scheme by the odious Lord Regent Albrecht to usurp the throne. A series of treacheries instigated by Albrecht sees our hero bereft of his right hand, and left to fend for himself in the vast swamplands.

Fortunately for Helmut he is rescued by the wizard Sandivar, a staunch supporter of the late Sigrieth and a firm opponent of Albrecht. While Helmut yearns for revenge on the Lord Regent, he realizes there are limitations to mounting an insurgency when one is a twelve year-old boy. Accordingly, Sandivar proposes to use thaumaturgical means to advance Helmut to manhood, after which Helmut will possess sufficient physical and mental prowess to campaign against Albrecht.

As the 'Sword' unfolds, we follow Helmut, now transformed into a Conan-style berserker, and Sandivar as they confront Albrecht, his confederate the sorceress Kierena, and their formidable allies: legions of wolves, werewolves, and barbarians.............

I debated internally as to whether 'The Sword of Morning Star' was deserving of a four- or five- star rating, and eventually settled on a five-star rating. 

When taken for what it is, and what is what designed to be: a concise sword and sorcery novel intended to leverage the marketing climate of the late 1960s, 'Sword' does everything right. 

In the span of only 144 pages there is just enough space to introduce characters, a plot, and then a narrative that ties these together in as efficient a manner as possible. This is no minor thing to do, and author Meade / Hass does it well, particularly in the final chapters of the novel, featuring an exciting depiction of a climactic battle scene that may, or may not, go the way the reader is hoping. 

Had Meade been given the page count of contemporary fantasy novels, such as Scott Lynch's 2007 tome The Lies of Locke Lamora (736 pages), he undoubtedly could have provided a more expansive version of 'Sword' and all accompanying benefits such a lengthier format can provide. As it stands, however, Meade's work is one of the better sword and sorcery novels of the late 60s, and worth picking up.

[ For a different, but still approving, take on 'The Sword of Morning Star', readers are directed to this review at the M. Porcius blog. ]

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