Tuesday, January 23, 2018

The Eyes of Sarsis by Andrew Offutt and Richard Lyon

Tiana looked at the broken body of the bear.  It was true.  What had seemed a sighted eye now appeared to be a large diamond, the same stone she had seen on Kathis's throat.  The sight triggered an avalanche of realization in Tiana's mind.  There had been too many mysterious happenings; at last she understood them.
Here it is, the sequel to The Demon in the Mirror, Part Two of Andrew Offutt and Richard Lyon's War of the Wizards trilogy, The Eyes of Sarsis.  While The Demon in the Mirror had four distinct editions, today's subject appears to have been published only once, in 1980.  Not a hopeful sign!  My copy was previously owned by a Landon.

What can we say about the cover by Rowena Morrill?  Morrill's work, to me at least, often feels very static, even when she is trying to convey motion, and I feel that way about this one.  Tiana, the voluptuous red-haired pirate captain, certainly has a strange pose here, with her left arm foreshortened and her right leg up in the air for some unknown reason, while the male figure is standing inert like a statue, not even looking at Tiana, even though Tiana's contortions suggest she is responding to some sudden move by him.  And what is up with that gem in the guy's throat?  (We can all draw our own conclusions about the placement of Tiana's right hand.)  I like the chameleon on the boat's bowsprit (hmmm, this boat doesn't have a mast or any oarlocks...is it propelled by magic?) and hope he is a character in the book--maybe a wizard's familiar or the vessel for a wizard's soul while his human body is incapacitated?  Well, let's read The Eyes of Sarsis and see if the mysteries of Rowena's cover painting are solved to our satisfaction.

You may recall that I thought the ending of The Demon in the Mirror had some of the feeling of a detective story, with the authors tying together various plot threads and Tiana, the heroine, adding up all the clues she had collected over the course of the novel and resolving the conflict with that knowledge.  Well, Book I of The Eyes of Sarsis (the novel's 200 pages of text are divided into three "books") has even more in common with such a tale of sleuthing.  The plot is quite convoluted from the start, involving sorcery that animates the dead and compels said zombies to deliver encoded messages that Tiana and Caranga have to decipher, a series of bizarre murders committed by a house cat with a diamond necklace who can hypnotize people (it makes its victims slit their own throats so it can lap up their blood), the discovery of a strange artifact--the Left Eye of Sarsis--and the kidnapping by a wizard based in the Orient, Ekron, of Princess Jiltha, the daughter of King Hower of Ilan (Tiana's home country).  Holonbad, the Duke of Reme (Tiana's hometown), and Hower have Tiana and her crew, including her black foster father, master pirate Caranga, arrested, shanghaiing them into the Jalitha recovery force.  You see, Hower tried to ransom Jiltha, offering Ekron the Left Eye of Sarsis for his daughter, but the ship carrying the Eye east and the ship carrying Jiltha west have both disappeared in the middle of the ocean!  Who better suited to find these valuables than the two best pirates in Reme?

Fellow sword and sorcery fan
Landon, we salute you!
At the end of Book I, Tiana and Caranga, having wiped out a cult of demon-worshipers, saved Duke Holonbad's life, and figured out who sent them via zombie courier an encoded map to the Kroll Isles, current location of Jiltha and the Left Eye (their benefactor was Voomundo, "a mighty ju-ju man" from the Dark Continent and a hero in the "shadow war" of mankind against the serpentine race who once ruled the world and would rule it again), set sail from Reme.  In the first chapter of Book II our point of view is directed to some of our villains: Ekron, the wizard you looks like "a yellow toad," and Hartes, the King of Thesia.  In the same way that the Ilan nobles took Tiana and Caranga into custody in order to hire them to search for Jiltha, the Thesian king and the anuran sorcerer have seized a blonde barbarian, Bjaine, a pirate captain from the frigid far North, in order to impress his services--he also sets out to the Kroll Isles to retrieve Jiltha and the Left Eye.

The Kroll Isles are a den of pirates ruled by ace pirate Storgavar.  (These Tiana books are full of ace pirates!  To support such an elevated population of nautical thieves, this world must have a tremendous volume of legitimate international trade, but Offutt and Lyon never introduce us to any honest sailors or respectable businesspeople.)  Storgavar has Jiltha and the Left Eye locked up in his castle, but the hypnotic powers of the vampire cat, which stowed away on Tiana's ship, the Vixen, throw his corsair fiefdom into total confusion and the pirate king is deposed.  The forces of Tiana, Storgavar, Bjaine, and the diamond-bearing cat all fight each other, and then the three pirates make common cause against the vampiric beast.  The monster shifts form, first taking over one of King Hower's best soldiers, Kathis--hey, that's the guy on the cover!-- and then a huge bear.

When Kathis turns on Tiana she finds he has the diamond embedded in his neck, and when the bear appears the jewel is set in its forehead--Tiana realizes that the diamond is the Right Eye of Sarsis, a malevolent living thing!  Storgavar is killed, and Tiana, Bjaine, and Princess Jalitha are all taken captive by the Right Eye, who has taken command of Storgavar's pirate fleet via hypnotism.  The Right Eye takes his captives to a barren island where lightning storms are endemic--this natural source of electricity will enable it to awaken the Left Eye.  Our heroes escape, and in the ensuing desperate battle Bjaine refuses to accept Tiana's orders and even tells her that fighting is a man's work and she should go cook him something!

The Eyes of Sardis's dedication

In my last blog post I made passing mention of the issue of gender roles in The Demon in the MirrorThe Eyes of Sarsis addresses what we might call women's issues or feminism more directly.  In Book I, Tiana directly upbraids King Hower for his patriarchal verbiage:
"I sinned in disturbing the Sacred Grove.  I do not want that sin compounded into black disaster for all humanity.  Save my daughter if you can, but do what is best for all men."
"And women," Tiana asked innocently, "lord King?"
"Figure of speech," Hower grumped, giving her a look.
In Bjaine, who is obviously intended as a sort of male parallel to Tiana (he has a career similar to hers and got mixed up in this Jiltha/Eyes of Sarsis caper in exactly the same way) we have a character who is an unreconstructed male chauvinist; he gives speeches in which he asserts the subordinate role of women and even beats young ladies who disobey his commands!  In the chapter in which we first meet Bjaine, King Hartes describes the transgressions that provided him a pretext to arrest the Northern barbarian:
"You claim that what truly happened was that you ordered the royal princess to fetch you wine.  When she naturally did not obey, you beat her!  That shocked my court and council, Bjaine--naturally.  Then you proceeded to discourse at length on the natural superiority of men over women, whose place it is to serve man, while every man has the right and duty to beat any woman to teach her her place."
Tiana, of course, proves to be a smarter person and better warrior than Bjaine, and she humiliates him when he tries to discipline her.  Bjaine contributes little to the effort to save mankind (er, humankind.)

Offutt and Lyon do a good job of leading the reader to believe that, with the help of Lightning Island's native population of non-carbon-based lifeforms, our heroes have buried both Eyes under an avalanche--then the authors craftily let on that this victory was one of the Eyes' illusions and our heroes were in fact defeated!

Recaptured by the reanimated but decaying corpse of the dead bear, which now has both Eyes of Sarsis in its fleshless skull, Tiana, Jiltha and Bjaine are taken to yet another island to be sacrificed in the kind of ceremony that is very common in these sword and sorcery tales and all sorts of genre fiction.  Should this ceremony come off, the planet will become as warm as it was eons ago and the cold-blooded snake people will again rule the world!

In Book III, Caranga, accompanied and directed by one of the world's greatest wizards and the human race's foremost leader in the Shadow War, Pyre, sails to the aid of Tiana.  Pyre's first step is to overthrow the ancient reptilian overlords of a town where pampered humans are bred as cattle with the help of Bardon, one of Tiana's lieutenants, whom the wizard provides a powerful magic sword.  This adventure gives Pyre (and the authors) the occasion to wax philosophical, musing on the topic of whether a life of freedom and self-responsibility is worth the trouble, or if a life as a coddled pet or spoiled child is to be preferred.  Then comes the climactic battle in which Pyre's sorcery, Caranga's swordsmanship and Tiana's wits foil the plans of the Eyes of Sarsis and the serpentine ancients.

I thought The Demon in the Mirror felt a little like a bunch of short stories as Tiana and Caranga traveled around the world, collecting plot coupons, but The Eyes of Sarsis does not suffer this problem at all, instead feeling like a coherent and carefully plotted-out novel.  I liked many of the minor characters, in particular Pyre, the philosophical wizard, and Bardon, the heir of a decayed noble family who lacks confidence and became a pirate in hopes of winning enough money to restore his once elite family's fortunes.  The Eyes of Sarsis also is more comedic than its predecessor, and I felt Book I had perhaps too many jokes, but Offutt and Lyon dial it back in the later books and avoid letting the humor overwhelm the drama.  The many depictions of magic are all good, and the fight scenes and scenes involving climbing walls and mountains and crawling through tunnels and creeping through secret passages are fun.  Thumbs up for The Eyes of Sarsis!  

I think I enjoyed The Eyes of Sarsis a little more than I did the first volume of Offutt and Lyon's War of the Wizards, even though my hopes of seeing a chameleon in a starring role were disappointed.  I am looking forward to the concluding volume of the trilogy, Web of the Spider.


  1. I'll be looking for Offutt and Lyon's War of the Wizards, The Eyes of Sarsis. and Web of the Spider. I agree with you on Rowena Morrill's cover artwork.

  2. I actually have a copy of WEB OF THE SPIDER. I bought it for the cover, but never got around to reading it. Now, because of your fine review, I'll have to dig it up and read it.

    1. Thanks for your kind words; I hope you enjoy the novel!