More promised than delivered in the Age of Blood Apr 2, 2008
For me, this novel (really a loosely linked collection of stories) suffered a bit in comparison to the first Brak tale I came across in a 70's paperback anthology. While that story was an obvious Robert E. Howard pastiche, I recall it as tightly plotted and well-written- a suitable substitute for Howard and hinting at the possibility of something more.
The few new changes on Howard's Conan formula which Jakes rings mainly highlight the close similarity- Brak is blond while Conan is black-haired; Brak is subject to moral qualms more easliy than is the brooding Cimmerian. Jakes also adds a type of Christian theology to the mix of savage and civilized gods in his unnamed world. But Brak is still, like Conan, a wandering Northern barbarian, possessed of superior physical and ethical attributes who is suspicious (for good reason) of sorcery and of civilized ways.
Unfortunately the inspiration behind these stories seems uneven, and the ideas and prose catch fire only in spurts. Jakes' monsters are vaguely rendered and Brak himself as a character is not clearly drawn. Other than some scattered moments of evocative description and action, Jakes' strongest element is the sorcerer Septegundus, the Amyr of Evil on Earth, whose very flesh teems with the tiny writhing figures of tortured souls trapped beneath his skin.
I remain hopeful that subsequent volumes in the Brak series will better fulfill the promise of these not-fully-baked tales. Brak the Barbarian works as light pulp entertainment and a breath from the past even as it whets the appetite for more substantial fare. And my edition, the first Avon paperback, is physically gorgeous with its glorious, hard-hitting Frazetta painting, merciless red-and-black color scheme and transcendent copy ("INTO THE THRICE-FIRED HELL OF YOB-HAGGOTH STRODE THE YELLOW-HAIRED GIANT OF THE NORTH"). This kind of pulp goes best when it goes over the top; would that Jakes had caught the same fever that his book designers had.