Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Tal Tulai Khan


The first Harold Lamb story I ever read was, fittingly enough, sent to me by my friend Howard Andrew Jones. Howard has since edited the greater part of Lamb's adventure fiction into eight amazing volumes from Bison Books. I've raved about Lamb here at the blog many times, reviewing his short stories, his novels, and his historical biographies. I'm going to do it again now because last night I read one of my favorite Lamb tales so far, Tal Tulai Khan, featuring Lamb's best known protagonist, the wily Cossack Khlit.
In this one, Khlit's pride gets him into trouble, (not for the first or last time) when some of his fellow Cossacks imply that he is too old to take place in an expected upcoming battle. Khlit, who may have gray hair and a white mustache, but who is still a deadly swordsman, takes offense and quits the Cossack band. Riding into the lands of the Mongol Tatars, Khlit entertains the idea of perhaps joining the Great Khan Tal Tulai Khan, and boldly rides to the pavilions where the Khan and his retinue are on a great hunt. But, little does Khlit know that his sworn enemy, Mirai Khan is already at Tal Tulai Khan's camp.
At first, Tulai Khan is impressed with Khlit's swaggering confidence, and bids him stay with the hunt, but soon Mirai Khan has poisoned the Great Khan against Khlit and all things Cossack and Khlit must use all his wits and his skill with the curved saber to escape death when literally thousands of foes are between the Cossack and escape. This one has one of the best sword duels in it I've read so far, and Khlit's answer to his plight is something only Lamb would have thought of. Lamb has the same knack that Agatha Christie had of hiding a solution, only to spring it at the end, and like Christie, with Lamb you think, "Of course!" rather than "unfair!" His plotting is that good.
Anyway, I'm on a Harold Lamb kick at the moment. I've been fairly careful to ration his stuff out, because obviously the supply is finite, but lately I feel the need for the kind of adventures Lamb excelled at, so I'm going to read some more Cossack stories before putting the book on the shelf. (This story is in Wolf of the Steppes, vol I of the Complete Cossack Adventures) I have yet to crack the final two of the four Bison volumes of Cossack adventures, so I've still got a lot left. I also have plenty of Lamb's other books, fiction and non fiction, too. As I've noted before, if you like Robert E. Howard, give Harold Lamb a shot. Lamb was one of REH's favorite writers, and I can see why.

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