Ever the optimist, I managed to find a silver lining in the extreme suckiness of John Jakes’ 1977 novel Brak vs. the Sorceress, though I struggled mightily to do so.
If nothing else, it proves how talented Robert E. Howard was as a writer.
Howard could take the raw elements of a sword and sorcery story and make them come alive in unforgettable tales; in the case of Brak vs. the Sorceress one learns that muscled warriors in loincloths rescuing damsels in distress can also make for really, really bad camp.
I wish I had something good to say about this book, but I don’t. It’s not just derivative and lazy (though it is that, in spades), but it also serves as an instructive example in the art of bad writing. Brak vs. the Sorceress opens with a four-page infodump of cliché fantasy that is probably a recap of the previous book in the Brak series. I can’t be bothered to look it up and figure out whether that’s the case. Regardless, it proves utterly unnecessary to the remainder of the thinly plotted story. Here’s the description of the plot from the back of the cover, a poorly done run-on sentence that still makes the story sound much better than it actually reads:
Making his way south toward the golden
, Brak must first traverse the
desolate territory of the Manworm—a land gripped by terror of things unknown
and awful—a land of unseen watchers and horrifying riddles—a land ravaged by
the evil of Nordica Fire-Hair, the beautiful, hypnotic sorceress whose occult
experiments include human sacrifice. To save the land and its terrorized
people, Brak joins forces with the ailing Lord Stann and begins one of his most
incredible adventures. land of Khurdistan
Basically the whole story is about how Brak accepts a mission solely to avenge the slaying of his pony and to teach a spirited woman a lesson in humility. I’m not making this up. From the book: To her the life of a pony was a small thing, and therein lay her evil. To him the pony’s life mattered much. His choice was clear-cut. He would not slink away. He would punish her. He was Brak, a man.
Got that? He’s a man, and she’s a wicked pony-killing woman. She must pay the price!