Monday, November 09, 2009

Demon Journey

Sometimes you get a lucky break. I had been looking for a good copy of The Mighty Barbarians, a 1969 anthology of Sword & Sorcery stories, companion to a second anthology I already owned, The Mighty Swordsmen. Both books were edited by Hans Stefan Santesson and both had nifty covers by Jim Steranko. Anyway, someone on Ebay was offering both books along with three other paperbacks for four bucks. I bid, no one else did, and so I got the book I wanted for a song and it was indeed a fine copy and the copy of The Mighty Swordsmen was better than the one I had. Win, win. But wait, it gets better!
One of the other paperbacks was another collection of Sword & Sorcery stories called Swords Against Tomorrow. I'd heard of this one, but never come across a copy. I had already read most of the stories in the anthology but I was still pleased to get a copy, and as it turned out, one of the stories that I hadn't read was one of the best S&S yarns I've read in some time.
Poul Anderson's Demon Journey is an action packed, rollicking good adventure. It was written early in Anderson's long career, originally appearing in a 1951 issue of the pulp magazine Planet Stories under the title, Witch of the Demon Seas. The protagonist is a pirate named Corun, who is captured by his enemies and sentenced to death near the beginning of the story. Shorzan, a sorcerer in the employ of the enemy king offers Corun a chance at freedom if the pirate will lead him to the home of the non human Xanthi in the Demon Seas, a place that few humans have visited and fewer have returned from. Corun agrees, partly because he has been bewitched by Shorzan's slinky granddaughter, Chryseis, the titular witch of the original tale.
Corun and the sorcerers ship out with a crew of blue skinned mercenaries. Along the way they will face sorcery and sea monsters before finally reaching the home of the Xanthi, a race of amphibious creatures sort of like Lovecraft's Deep Ones. Here, loyalties will shift and plots will twist and much blood will be shed in harrowing battles. This is one the most pulpish efforts I've ever read by Anderson. It has almost a Robert E. Howard feel to it.
If you've been reading this blog for a while, you've seen me review other works by Poul Anderson, mostly his Viking related stories, but also his Conan pastiche, Conan the Rebel, and his vastly influential fantasy novel, The Broken Sword. The scary thing is, as much fantasy as Anderson wrote, he wrote even more science fiction, including some of my favorite time travel stories. I find Anderson's work to be generally enjoyable but occasionally uneven. I guess when someone writes as much as Anderson did, he's eventually going to turn out a clunker or two. Demon Journey is far from clunky though and I'm really glad I happened across it. Just a nice bit of luck.

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