Friday, January 19, 2018

The Demon in the Mirror by Andrew Offutt & Richard Lyon

Tiana's long career as a pirate asea coupled with her certain knowledge of her own bastardy, had given her an ever-fierce thrust for independence and a will that was passing strong.  Both drove her now.  Her being flashed with scarlet anger.  Every ounce of her strength channeled into the arm that strove to drive her sword into this monster in human form.
I purchased my copy of the 1980 edition of 1978's The Demon in the Mirror because of my interest in Andrew J. Offutt's odd career.  I had no idea who Richard Lyon was.  A little googling indicates that Richard K. Lyon was a successful research chemist and a SF fan who, inspired by Robert E. Howard and by his own wife, wrote The Demon in the Mirror but found himself unable to sell it.  He shared the manuscript with Offutt, who revised or rewrote it and succeeded in selling it to Pocket Books.  (Lyon tells the tale of The Demon in the Mirror's genesis and talks about his career as a scientist at the website Bewildering Stories, a sort of web magazine devoted to speculative writing.)  The Demon in the Mirror is Part One of a trilogy entitled War of the Wizards; I own all three volumes of the trilogy, and if I like this first book, I'll read all three, one after the other.  If I can trust Andre Norton and Jerry Pournelle, whose gushing blurbs (Norton likens Lyon and Offutt's work to that of sword and sorcery icons Howard, Fritz Leiber and C. L. Moore, while Pournelle suggests Offutt and Lyon have contributed something innovative to the field) adorn the back cover of my copy of the novel, I can be certain I am going to love it!

Tiana is a beautiful lady pirate ship captain!  She fights with a rapier and wears a tight shirt so her boobs will distract the people she is trying to murder in the course of her profession!  She and the crew of her ship, the Vixen (sexy!), have just captured a heavily armed merchant ship and exterminated its crew.  While her men are drunkenly celebrating their victory, Tiana explores the prize, overcoming hideous monsters and deadly traps to get her mitts on the treasure the vessel was transporting--books of magic and a mummified hand.  The hand, as all readers were no doubt hoping, is still alive!

Squint or click to read the
ecstatic praise for The Demon in
from Andre Norton and
Jerry Pournelle
After the exciting opening chapter we learn our heroine's backstory, and as authors of popular fiction so often do, we find Offutt and Lyon trying to give their protagonist the cachet of both a rebel and an outlaw and an aristocratic establishment figure in order to appeal to people's democratic and elitist prejudices.  (Tarzan lives like an animal in the jungle but is also an English nobleman, Conan is not only a barbarian and a thief but also becomes a wise king, Elric is an emperor who becomes a wanderer and destroys his own society, and on and on.  Isn't that Harry Potter brat people are always talking about raised by evil stepparents in a slum but, in reality, the chosen one whose veins pulse with the blood of the grand dragon of the wizard church or something?)  Tiana is the illegitimate daughter of the Duke of Reme, who was killed during an abortive coup while she was a child; her half-brother Bealost (oy, the names!) was the rightful lord of the Duchy of Reme, but presumed dead.  Tiana was adopted and raised by a black pirate and reformed cannibal, Caranga; this aged seawolf now serves as Vixen's first mate.

Back ashore, Tiana sells the magic books to a mysterious and sinister wizard going by the name of Lamarred; the sorcerer explains that the living dead hand is that of the wizard Derramal.  (Oh, boy.)  Some time ago, Derramal was chopped into pieces and the pieces scattered about the globe, but he can be brought back to life if all the pieces are assembled.  Why should Tiana put back together this human jigsaw puzzle?  Because Lamarred te;lls her Bealost is alive, but only Derramal knows where he is!

The meat of the book that follows, as Tiana and foster father Caranga split up to gather up all these dismembered wizard parts, is episodic, almost like a series of short stories, in each of which a fragment of Derramal's body is recovered.  Tiana retrieves Derramal's other hand from a cult of vampire women who worship a giant bat, and then a burglar called Bandari the Cat helps her defeat a tribe of barbarians and get to the top of an unscalable mountain, the burial site of Derramal's right arm.  The ascent is achieved by what amounts to parasailing on the updrafts generated by a thunderstorm--Bandari's  people call this "highriding."  This whole highriding bit was like something out of a SF story, as it is entirely based on chemistry and physics, not magic or supernatural powers.  To get down the mountain Tiana and Bandari slide down an ice field, a scene I suspect is an homage to a similar scene in Leiber's memorable Fafhrd and Grey Mouser tale "The Seven Black Priests."  Derramal's left arm is in some royal family's catacombs, and to spirit herself into and out of the closely guarded subterranean vault Tiana must outsmart doublecrossing aristocrats, torturers and guards; within the catacombs she has to contend with the resident ghouls before she can retrieve the grisly object of her quest. 

Meanwhile, Caranga, hunting for Derramal's legs, sails Vixen to an island where he and the crew outwit an evil alchemist and battle an army of spider-women who have the power to cloud the human mind with illusions.  Later, in this world's equivalent of Africa, they battle invisible monsters in the abandoned city where rest Derramal's feet.  In an interesting change of pace from the rest of the book's third-person narration, Caranga's adventures are related in the first person by Caranga himself.

Later editions of the novel crop Boris
Vallejo's painting, I guess to make it
uniform with other books
in the "Timescape" line 
Like so many of these swordfighting adventure heroes, e.g., John Carter, Conan, the Grey Mouser, etc., Tiana is the best swordswinger in her milieu.  The authors, however, don't just have her swordfight her way through every obstacle; instead Tiana uses a variety of strategies to defeat her enemies and accomplish her goals, ranging from negotiations and laying pitfalls to disguises and the aforementioned highriding.  Offutt and Lyon add variety and interest to the book by portraying Tiana not as a static character but as a person engaged in a continual process of learning; Caranga taught her to be a pirate, for example, while Bandari teaches her woodcraft and how to highride.  To secure the last part of Derramal, his head, Tiana has to break a siege of the town in which it lies; she accomplishes this by highriding into a thundercloud, where she bombards the besiegers with lightning bolts by seeding the cloud as  Bandari the Cat taught her.

In the last few chapters of the novel, by adding up clues she has collected along with Derramal's body parts, Tiana figures out the tragic truth of Bealost's fate and the horrifying relationship of Derramal to Lamarred.  (The ending of the book actually has some of the feeling of the climax of a detective story in which the protagonist explains how he or she figured everything out and exposes how earlier events held a significance the reader may not have realized at the time.)  By stitching together the body of Derramal (did I mention that Tiana is also a skilled surgeon?), Tiana precipitates the inevitable world-threatening showdown with a Lovecraftian alien entity that the world's most powerful wizards had been cowardly postponing, and via detective work and trickery she neutralizes this extradimensional menace and saves the world.

At 180 pages, The Demon in the Mirror may be too long, and the tomb-raiding episodes that make up much of the middle section of the book may be a little too similar; too many of them seem to involve Tiana or Caranga spotting a structural weakness in the temple or tomb they are raiding and taking advantage of this Achilles's heel to demolish the structure.  On the other hand, each individual episode is entertaining, and at the end Lyon and Offutt make an effort to neatly tie the whole novel and all its threads and incidents together with a bow, so that even if, as you were reading it, the book felt a bit like a series of self-contained stories, when you are finished it does feel more or less like a coherent whole in which early events and lines of dialogue were laying the groundwork for some kind of pay off later on.  I'd judge The Demon in the Mirror moderately good, and definitely more polished and better structured than the two sword fighting capers we recently read, Kandar by Ken Bulmer and Kothar and the Wizard Slayer by Gardner Fox; Offutt and Lyon's book feels like something the authors put some serious time and effort into.

What to make of our heroes, Tiana and Caranga?  The fact that The Demon in the Mirror's protagonist is a take-charge woman raises the question of to what extent we should see the novel as some kind of feminist work, and to what extent merely one that uses a female character to titillate male readers.  Obviously there is a lot of room for individual readers to decide this for themselves, but I will note that the text repeatedly draws attention to Tiana's "jiggle and bounce," to her "rounded thighs crowding her snug short breeks," her "large firm breasts" and on and on, and that the threat of nonconsensual sex is an oft-recurring theme, especially the danger of Tiana being raped but also the possibility of men being seduced by monsters that look like human women.  Also noteworthy is the significant number of female villains, and Tiana's repeated use of her sexuality to manipulate men.

Similarly, should we laud the authors for striking a blow against racism with their portrayal of Caranga as a brave adventurer, able leader, and wise and loving father, or cringe at their depiction of him as an oversexed and booze-loving former cannibal who provides much of the book's comic relief?  Is his relationship with Tiana a hopeful vision of amity between the races, or yet another instance of a "magical negro" selflessly guiding white people to success and glory?

Well, we'll see what Offutt and Lyon do with Tiana and Caranga in the second part of the War of the Wizards trilogy, The Eyes of Sarsis.


My copy of The Demon in the Mirror has three pages of ads in the back, presenting to the SF community Pocket Books' line of fantasy and science fiction paperbacks.  Among the promoted books we see Michael Bishop's Eyes of Fire, a 1980 revision or "complete rewrite" of Bishop's 1975 novel A Funeral for the Eyes of Fire.  Since June 2015 I have owned a 1975 Ballantine printing of the original novel under the Funeral title, but have not read it yet.  Joachim Boaz considers the 1975 version "a masterpiece."

Advertised on the same page as Eyes of Fire we see Richard Cowper's Road to Corlay, which tarbandu wrote about in 2012, and Kate Wilhem's Juniper Time, which Joachim wrote about in 2014.  Also promoted is a one-volume edition of F. M. Busby's The Demu Trilogy from 1980; I read a 1974 edition of the first Demu book, Cage A Man, and liked it.

Listed on a page devoted to "science fantasy" (one which I've actually already written about, back in 2014), are the first two Dying Earth books by Grandmaster Jack Vance, the original collection of stories, which I feel is a bit overrated, and the first Cugel book, Eyes of the Overworld, which I adore and strongly recommend as a brilliant entertainment.  On the top of the "science fantasy" page is Cecilia Holland's Floating Worlds.  I don't own a copy of Floating Worlds, but I plan on reading it someday; a few years ago I read something about it someplace that made it sound weird, controversial and challenging.

If you have anything to say about any of the books advertised on these pages, don't hesitate to get it off your chest in the comments!


  1. Chris Offutt, Andrew's son, wrote about his father's career here:

    1. That Times article is fascinating, and I hope to read Chris Offutt's book about his father someday.

  2. After reading Chris Offutt's book about his father, I started buying up all the Andy Offutt titles I could find (including the ones written under pseudonyms). I'm impressed with Andy Offutt's productivity and his quality control over what he was writing.