"Sword-armed men...barbarians indeed! But all of us, not just we of Branarius, so long called the Barbarian World. Sword-armed men, Jheru, concerned with their mail-coats, counseled by so-called wise men called Elders--for we are really stupid men indeed--living under ages-old lights and riding from world to world in ships built in the mists of pasts. Ships whose mechanisms we understand not at all."
Followers of my thrilling twitter feed may recall that I have been buying up Andrew J. Offutt paperbacks. Well, here's one with a title that makes you wonder why Fabio isn't on the cover: My Lord Barbarian, from 1977. Maybe my copy has suffered sun damage, or maybe it's because I'm sitting under a fluorescent light, but it looks, to me, like our hero has a green face and purple hair. Maybe he's some kind of human-alien hybrid? We see those from time to time in our science-fiction wanderings, don't we?
As our story begins, Valeron of planet Brasarius has just pacified and united that previously war torn and anarchic world, most primitive of the Seven, making himself King of Brasarius. The Emperor of the Seven Worlds invites Valeron to the capital planet, Carmeis; he thinks Valeron, a fellow fighting man, would make a great husband for his daughter, Princess Aleysha, and a great heir to the imperial throne. The bookish prime minister, Darcus Cannu, however, begs to differ, and when Valeron arrives at the palace the PM murders the Emperor and has Valeron framed for the crime!
The slender and sexy princess, now Empress (though merely a figurehead under the thumb of Darcus Cannu, who even has the temerity to start planning their wedding!), met barbaric hunk Valeron when she was 13 and has been nursing a crush on that heroic slab of beefcake for the six years he's been away unifying Brasarius by cracking skulls, so she helps Valeron escape the dungeon. Then Aleysha's curvaceous and sexy slave girl, Jheru, helps sneak Valeron into Aleysha's bedroom (where he relieves Aleysha of the burden of her virginity) and then helps him steal a spaceship and get the hell off Carmeis. While elegant Aleysha's aid came in the form of her slipping him a dagger through the bars of his cell, lusty Jheru gets her hands dirty in hand-to-hand fights at Valeron's side.
Valeron and Jheru travel to one of the other of the seven planets, where a council of the kings of all the lesser planets is convened. Our heroes convince the council of Darcus Cannu's guilt, and Valeron and Jheru then lead them and their armies to Carmeis to overthrow and punish Darcus. All you due process types out there will be happy to know Darcus is afforded a trial before the council, where he gets a chance to use his silver tongue to explain all his good selfless reasons for murdering the Emperor and putting the blame on war hero Valeron.
This is an entertaining adventure story with all the elements we've seen a million times: guys (and Jheru) swordfighting, getting captured, escaping, putting on the uniforms of the enemy to sneak around the palace, plotting sneak attacks and pincer moves, etc. One way Offutt adds some interest is by introducing some superficial but colorful characters, like the Elders who worship the god "Siense" and try to figure out the lost technology of the Ancients, the hairless savages known as the Sungoli who formerly terrorized Brasarius but now follow Valeron, and the various Kings of the Seven planets, one fat, one a religious fanatic, one a tested fighting man who earned his throne on the battlefield much as Valeron did, etc. Offutt tries to create the impression of a vast and diverse world with a small number of short strokes.
The contrast between barbarism and civilization and the uneasy relationship between the barbaric and the civilized are the main themes of the book. Valeron, like Tarzan, was raised in an alien and savage environment (by the Sungoli), and after mastering that environment left it for a more sophisticated milieu, where he again emerged as a leader, in part because of the skills he learned from his adoptive barbaric culture. Valeron is motivated by a need to prove to sophisticated people, and to himself, that, despite his upbringing among the lowest savages on the most primitive of the seven planets, he is as good as any civilized man. One of the novel's plot threads concerns the attitude of the Empire's leaders towards Valeron; Darcus Cannu commits the crimes he does because he thinks a barbarian unfit for the role of Emperor, and while Valeron wins over the kings of the five civilized planets and they accept his leadership of the army that overthrows Darcus Cannu, there is always an undercurrent of skepticism and fear about the unsophisticated, almost alien, Valeron, and the other kings are relieved when he declines the Imperial throne.
Chieftain of Andor?), Leigh Brackett and Alfred Coppel. My Lord Barbarian actually reminded me quite a bit of Philip Jose Farmer's The Green Odyssey: both are "swashbuckling" tales set on planets littered with mysterious high-tech artifacts and both feature capable female characters who save the hero's life as well as themes of sexual dominance.
Finally, I know all of you are wondering about Valeron's hair. Well, on page 72, Offutt does refer to Valeron's "mass of long purple-red hair"! It looks like Boris Vallejo actually read the book! (I still can't figure out the green face, though.)