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Fantasy Friday – Brak the Barbarian

 

Brak the Barbarian by John Jakes

 

Review by Chris C. (chrisnsally)

 

I recently read the pistachio joy that is Brak the Barbarian. I didn’t know John Jakes had written these novels of adventure until I read The Year’s Best Fantasy Stories vol. 2  as edited by Lin Carter.

I was familiar with Mr. Jakes for his novel North & South which appeared as television mini-series when I was an adolescent. I have probably mentioned, a time or two, I love the old Swords and Sorcery tales because they are just plain, fun reading. So, I found a copy of Brak the Barbarian through Paperback Swap to study this earlier work of Mr. Jakes.

 Any questions about the influences for this work are answered in the dedication to this volume;

for my son Michael, who has yet to make the acquaintance of Conan,

The Mouser and Fafhrd, Cugel, or the rest of that splendid company

that Sprague de Camp has so aptly named The Brotherhood of the Sword.

 

During the entirety of this book Brak has one garment of clothing, a lion skin girded about his loins, and one weapon, a broad sword. While I find it hard to believe, I got the impression he wore the same lion skin through the entire tale. I know the broad sword had to be replaced after he threw the original sword into the eye a T’muk, a giant spider-like beast of the desert which bleeds acid.

Brak is no magician, diplomat or politician. He is just a simple barbarian who wants journey to the southern extreme of known civilization to Khurdisan the Golden. Brak’s knowledge of Khurdisan is limited to the rumors of the splendor and glory, beauty and treasures to be found there. As an outside observer of Brak’s world, I have to question why he’d believe the Khurdisan would be any better the perilous lands which precede it.  Perhaps I want to route for the underdog but I just can’t admit that Brak is an Oaf as well as a barbarian.

In each chapter Brak faces a unique monster, each a new and deadly opponent from the imagination of Mr. Jakes. One of the most memorable passages from the novel is, appropriately, Jakes’ description of one of many of the vile beasts which Brak is forced to face in combat;

“Brak realized dimly that the monster must be some vile crossbreeding of life forms older than time. It was able to lift its long fish’s body half out of the pool by means of a series of frog-like webbed appendages down either side of its shimmering scaled body. Brak counted eight, ten, twelve of those webbed half-legs on one side. They churned in a rhythm like galley oars as the Fangfish bore down.”

Although he is paired with a new and seemingly more beautiful maiden in each of his adventures Brak is also the most chivalrous barbarian I have ever encountered. In the end Brak’s journey requires that he take up residence with one of these ladies;

“He and Rhea had taken a poor upper chamber in a bad quarter. They had slept on pallets with a straw screen between them, and lived all the months much like brother and sister, untouched and untouching, although several times … Brak had yearned to speak to her.”

But Brak the chivalrous remains chased to the end.

Mr. Jakes wrote 5  Brak the Barbarian books,  if you’ve read the Conan books, over and over, just click on the following links to the listings on PBS for these books to fill your barbaric adventure needs.

1. Brak the Barbarian (1968)
2. Brak the Barbarian versus the Sorceress (1969)
3. Brak the Barbarian versus the Mark of Demons (1969)
4. When the Idols Walked (1978)
5. The Fortunes of Brak (1980)

 

 

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