The Sword of Rhiannon, Leigh Brackett (1953)

November 10th, 2009

Leigh Brackett’s The Sword of Rhiannon was first published as The Sea-Kings of Mars in Thrilling Wonder Stories in June of 1949. The paperback dates from 1953 with the new title. My Ace paperback version dates from the early 1960s.

In 1949 Brackett was still writing romantic "Bronze Brassier" Science Fiction in the style of Robert E. Howard and Edgar Rice Burroughs. Her heroes are always powerful men with swords and her heroines are always half naked strong women who fall hard for the hunk.

The Sword of Rhiannon follows an adventurer who discovers an ancient tomb on a dying Mars. This is a Mars that has much in common with Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Barsoom novels. He is pushed into a mysterious black ball of energy. He wakes up a million years in the past with a famous sword in his hand and an ancient God living in the back of his mind. Mars, in the distant past, has seas, warring humans, and strange races of Halflings with mysterious powers.

The Sword of Rhiannon is fast paced, though largely difficult to take seriously. I had to turn up my suspension of disbelief all the way to 11, before I could get into the book, but it was a great read with a good story and resolution. I have three more Brackett books on the "B" shelf and I will be reading them soon. Leigh Brackett is rapidly becoming one of my favorite authors.

To give you a flavor of the book, here is an excerpt. From page 99 (near the end), Carse, the time travelling barbarian, possessed by the soul of the God Rhiannon, has a conversation with the warrior princess Ywain of the Kingdom of Sark.

Carse said abruptly, "You doubt me still."

She Started. "No Lord!"

Carse laughed. ‘Don’t think to lie to me. A stiff-necked haughty wench you are, Ywain, and clever. An excellent prince for Sark despite your sex."

Her mouth twisted rather bitterly. "My father Garach fashioned me as I am. A weakling with no son – someone had to carry the sword while he toyed with the scepter."

"I think," said Carse, "that you have not altogether hated it."

She smiled. "No, I was never bred for silken cushions." She continued suddenly, "But let us have no more talk of my doubting Lord Rhiannon. I have known you before – once in this cabin, when you faced S’San, and again in the place of the Wise Ones. I know you now."

"It does not greatly matter whether you doubt or not, Ywain. The barbarian alone overcame you and I think Rhiannon would have no trouble."

She flushed an angry red. Her lingering suspicion of him was plain now – her anger with him betrayed it.

"The barbarian did not overcome me. He kissed me and I let him enjoy that kiss so I could leave the mark of it on his face forever!"

Carse nodded, goading her, "And for a moment you enjoyed it also. You’re a woman for all you short tunic and your mail. And a woman always knows the one man who can master her."

"You think so?" she whispered.

She had come close to him now, her red lips parted as they had been before – tempting, deliberately provocative.

"I know it." He said.

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I started reading Science Fiction in the 1950s. I started Writing SF in the 1960s. Then, I had a life. Now I am retired, raising chickens and keeping bees. I am still an avid reader and I have sold about 70 stories in the last 20 years.
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