ERB Book Reviews
Edgar Rice Burroughs book reviews from fans like you.
The Chessmen of Mars
Reviewed by: Bruce Bozarth 1998-02-18
Chessmen of Mars (#5 in the Barsoom series) is perhaps the most imaginative of all the Mars Books. Written in 1921, Burroughs poured forth a most amazing mix of people, places and things.
John Carter, Warlord of Mars, has a headstrong daughter about 20 years old. Tara is as beautiful as her mother and is well loved as a princess of Helium. There is an understanding that she is to wed Djor Kantos, the son of Carter's best friend, yet things are not quite 100% between these two.
Chessmen opens at a royal dance wherein Tara has a fit of pique because Djor Kantos appears to be paying particular attention to Olvia Mathis. Her father introduces her to a jewel-encrusted gadfly, the Jed of Gathol. Gahan almost immediately declares his love for the daughter of the Warlord, but Tara will have none of him.
A chapter later Tara takes to the skies in her little one man flier and foolishly romps with a monster Barsoomian sandstorm--with dire results. She is swept away.
Gahan learns of this and sets out with his Gatholian cruiser and crew in a rescue attempt, but ends up lost overboard some hours later. Fortunately, he doesn't die after falling three thousand feet (read the story), and waits until the storm is over before setting out across the barren desert on foot to continue his search.
Tara, meanwhile, has been a captive among Kaldanes, the most exotic of all ERB's Barsoomian creatures; brains without bodies that symbiotically exist with rykors--animals that look like humans, but lack a head!
The master of fairly believable coincidence brings Gahan, Tara, and the kaldane Ghek together--only Tara does not recognize this plainly dressed warrior as the forward fellow at the dance. Gahan calls himself Turan rather than reveal his identity. The three make a daring escape from the valley of Kaldanes, only to find themselves drifting over a stark landscape in Tara's damaged flyer--facing dehydration and starvation.
ERB has other plans, of course, and that is to introduce these three characters into the ancient nation of Manator--where they are promptly captured. The evil jed takes a shine to Tara (lovely girl!), and sentences Gahan/Turan and Ghek to the pits.
There's internal politics aplenty in Manator, into which our intrepid heroes find themselves embroiled. Gahan manages to...
Chessmen of Mars is among the most innovative and detailed books in the Barsoom series. The action is fast-paced, the romance intense, and the wonder of far-off places and strange cultures is unique. Grab a copy and have a great read.
Reviewed by: Bob "Tarak" Woodley 1998-03-08
Chessmen is one of only a couple of Barsooms which are third-person, and I find this to be refreshing, and it also permits multiple plots, which ERB does so well.
This book has one necessary flaw. Tara, for all her qualities (and she certainly has some), doesn't recognize Gahan, even though she saw him a couple of days ago; and was moved by him, even if she wouldn't admit it. In my experience, when it comes to relationships, girls don't forget anything, let alone a diamond-studded royal stud. It was absolutely essential to the story, however, and I can't think of a way around it, unless guests wore masks to the Warlord's parties. (In addition to armor, in the event JC decides to go to war with someone during the party).
This aside, this is a terrific book. Gahan is in some ways the most likeable Barsoomian warrior, and the non-recognition/panthan/great fighter and plain when not at royal parties/realization by Tara that she loves him, etc. was as good as ever.
I stand by my assertion that the Red Men are overpopulating. Manator has a million Gatholian slaves. These are just slaves, and apparently not overly missed by Gathol, which is not supposed to be nearly as large as Helium.
The concept of the Kaldane/Rykor is excellent and imaginatively done. Manator is not a particularly imaginative creation, with the stuffed people, etc., and he could have come up with something better, but the jetan for real game was good. I did wonder why JC didn't stop by in Bantoom after rescuing everyone to pick up a few extra rykors for Ghek, but I suppose he can always stop back. Still, if I was a kaldane, I'd want an extra body hanging around, like a printer cartridge or something.
The relationship is as good as ERB can do it, and the passages as moving as ever. The lovers do say the "chieftain/princess" dialogue in this one. I had forgotten that.
I'm perhaps not entirely objective about this book, because I enjoy its heroine so much. She is something. She certainly stood the test of time for me, and I could write another two pages about this fairest princess. I saw "Titanic" a day or so after I read this one. The lyrics of the song could certainly apply to a far-away Barsoomian princess, who still "goes on" in my memories. What a song. I'm just as emotional as I was thirty years ago, and found this film very moving. The book, too.
I liked having JC there at the end, too. His reputation and the nostalgic way I identified with him when I was young, are always enjoyable. The ending, when he realizes Tara loves Gahan, and doesn't know who he is; and then the Gatholians telling her, etc. is ERB at his best. This is the kind of thing ERB does better than any writer, in my view. His handling of love, family, romantic frustration, and the facts-not-known-by-the-hero(ine) is evident throughout his works, and is clearly so in this one. He spends so little time on the love story; yet makes me care so much about it; in this book and in his others. His romantic passages are few, but so well done that they engender intense emotions. I just don't know of another writer who has ever done this so well, and certainly none have done it in such few words. More than the adventure, this is the magic of his writing, at least on Barsoom, and in many of his best books. His prose, written so long ago, is just spectacular.
So is Tara of Helium