Over at the Publishers Weekly website, they just posted their newest batch of “Fiction Book Reviews.” The capsule reviews are wide-ranging, covering books in both the ‘mainstream’ and ‘genre’ categories. A review of El Borak and Other Desert Adventures (coming in March from Del Rey) is amongst them.
Considering how small a percentage of eligible books actually get reviewed by Publishers Weekly, this is a nine-day wonder. When one takes into account that El Borak is a collection of previously published stories, the fact that it got reviewed at all is even more startling. PW is a book trade magazine read by booksellers and librarians all over the country. The review definitely ups the chances of REH’s fiction getting a wider distribution in heretofore seldom-seen venues. This is what the unnamed reviewer had to say…
El Borak and Other Desert Stories Robert E. Howard. Del Rey, $16 paper (544p) ISBN 978-0-345-50545-3
The late Howard (1906–1936) is best known for his sword-and-sorcery stories, but he was a prolific author whose work spanned many genres. This collection focuses on his Central Asian stories, offering 11 tales of derring-do along with various miscellanea and supplemental materials. Much of the book is devoted to Francis “El Borak” Gordon, an American caught up in the struggle among various imperial powers who seek control of the regions north of India. More self-centered adventurers like Kirby O’Donnell and Steve Clarney get fewer pages, but provide an interesting contrast with Gordon’s loyalty to his friends of all races. Many elements of these stories have aged badly, but Howard’s skill as a writer and his enthusiasm for the subject matter are undeniable.
All in all, I find little to grouse or gripe about. Robert E. Howard is given due respect, with no snarky asides. I think it is arguable that “many elements of these stories have aged badly,” but it is a debatable point, I’ll grant that. Regarding another point raised, while I do think that O’Donnell and Clarney are a bit less altruistic than Francis X. Gordon, I don’t see that they were any less loyal to their “friends of all races.” No matter how “bastardly” any of REH’s protagonists might be, I do not recall any of them betraying friends, no matter what race, color or creed. Still, a worthy if succinct review. I hope to see more like it in mainstream venues in the coming months.
My thanks to John J. Miller for the heads-up.
AL ADDS: Personally, it’s the assertion that “many elements of these stories have aged badly” that bothers me. How exactly can stories set in the early years of the 20th century age badly, exactly? Are stories set during the Second World War similarly “dated?”