The Glass of Dyskornis by Randall Garrett and Vicki Ann Heydron
Bantam Books, 1982
Price I paid: $1.25
For Ricardo Carillo, taking over the life of the swordsman Markasset on the desert world of Gandalara had its compensations: a strong, young body, a beautiful fiancee, and a mighty telepathic war-cat named Keeshah, who obeyed his every command. It also had its problems. Markasset had many enemies, and one was out for blood. So Ricardo and Keeshah left Raithskar to join the Sharith—the warrior brotherhood of sha’um cat-riders. But trouble followed, and he soon found himself in the company of a jealous lieutenant and a lovely but treacherous illusionist, on the track of a murderer who had stolen Gandalara’s most precious jewel.
I seem to remember when I reviewed The Steel of Raithskar that I said something along the lines of “This book has sequels and I have lots of doubts as to whether I will ever bring myself to read any of them.”
And yet here I am. What changed my mind? Well, to be completely honest, it’s the cover. This cover is just so bad I felt myself drawn to it like a Terexian moth to an antimatter null-flame.
It’s interesting to see how the hero is depicted across these two covers. In the previous book, he had sort of a weird Mark Hamill thing going on. This time he definitely looks a lot more like a Belushi. Neither John nor Jim, this book is about the mysterious third Belushi brother, of whom we know only story and song.
And then there’s the skinny guy up front who, I guess we’re supposed to figure, just got the crap mauled out of him. That explains the scrapes, but it doesn’t explain why the rest of his face is so poorly drawn.
“Well, maybe he’s not supposed to be human,” you might be thinking. And you’d be right to think so. It’s a perfectly valid line of reasoning, especially because the people in this book aren’t supposed to be human themselves. But here’s the thing: the people in this book have tusks and “head fur” and other non-human attributes that the cover artist either wasn’t told or just didn’t care about.
Still, giant cats. Gotta give it up for the giant cats. As the owner of a giant cat myself, I support all efforts to bring attention to them.
The first five pages of the book are recap. I skipped those and read my own review of the first book. What’s interesting is that we get to know who the two mysterious voices that bookend the novel are this time around. Well, just one of them. It turns out that one is “Recorder” and the other is the hero of the book. Since the entire book is in first person, I guess that makes a degree of sense. I still hate it.
This book was better than its predecessor, but I still wouldn’t call it good. The characters were still pretty flat, and there was still just a whole bunch of exposition, and we haven’t gotten any kind of explanation as to why our main character is even here in the first place. What we do know is that he’s just great. Everybody loves him. He’s the best. The fact that Markasset, whose body he inhabits, is dead and replaced is a cause for celebration for most of the other characters in the book.
In fact, this one starts off with everybody trying to celebrate him as much as possible. He’s been offered multiple jobs. His “dad,” Thanasset, wants him to join the Council. Zaddorn, the head of the city guard, wants to sign him on as his second-in-command in spite of the fact that they were enemies until the very end of the last book. Our hero, who now goes by the name Rikardon, can’t decide. He mostly just wants to rest up after his last adventure, so he heads off to join the rest of the Sharith—people who ride giant cats—and take a little vaykay.
And of course as soon as he arrives the leader of the Sharith wants to make him Captain. This leads to tension between Rikardon and a guy named Thymas, who is ambitious and jealous of Rikardon’s infinite awesomeness.
One of the things that bugged me about this book was just how squeaky clean it was. It had plenty of violence but no swearing. Something inside me thinks it’s weird that it’s okay to stab somebody with a sword but it’s not okay to use the word ass. The most common “swears” in this text are derived from the word “flea.” At one point somebody is called a “fleason.” I assume that means he’s a son of a flea. I would also accept the idea that it means he’s the son of a bassist.
Really, that’s okay. This is a different culture and they’re going to have different things they find worth using as cusses. That’s decent worldbuilding. Plus, while it seems to get a share of grief, I’m still a fan of Larry Niven’s tanj, so there you go.
The problem is that our hero isn’t from this society and a fair amount of the book is his internal monologue, and we get things like this on page 8:
I’d like to stuff those coins, one by one, through his digestive system in reverse, I thought.
Now that’s just a dumb way of putting it. Nobody thinks or talks that way. This is dishonest internal monologuing. If you mean to say “I want to shove these coins up his ass,” just say it. And if you’re wanting to avoid the kind of rudeness that comes from mentioning anuses, say instead something like, “I’d enjoy shoving those coins down his throat” or “up his nose” or some other orifice that doesn’t draw attention to the fact that you were desperately trying to avoid using a bad word, or sound smart, or both.
So instead of getting a chance to relax, Rikardon ends up going on a quest. It starts off when somebody tries to kill him. There’s this party and there’s a dancing girl who is also an illusionist. Somebody tries to stab Rikardon at the party and the illusionist girl takes off. Rikardomontalbán chases her down, figuring she had something to do with it. He assumes that the assassination attempt was on behalf of a dude named Worfin, since before Ricardo showed up Markasset owed the guy a lot of money in gambling debts. Rikardon paid off those debts, but Warfarin or whatever is just a bad guy.
It later turns out that Worfin didn’t actually do it. The real bad guy is Gharlas, the guy who stole the gem that set off the exposition in the first book. But we don’t learn that until later.
Tarani, the illusionist girl, states that she didn’t know anything about the assassination attempt but fled because she figured everyone would think she had something to do with it. She expositions us with a sob story about her uncle Volitar and how she was a sex slave of a bad dude named Molik for a while. When she escaped Molik, he kidnapped her uncle and she wants Rikardon’s help in springing him. Along for the ride comes Thymas, the guy who hates Rikardon, and the bulk of the rest of the book is mostly Thymas staring daggers at our hero until awesomeness finally wins him over.
Also, Thymas and Tarani have a thing going on.
Rikardon and his giant cat, Kee$hah, track down Molik but it turns out that Tarani’s uncle isn’t actually there. He’s gone off with Gharlpower. Thyghmaster kills Terence Molik anyway.
Gharlas shows up and gloats and expositions us about his plans. He claims to be the true heir to the throne of someplace and wants to unite all the lands of Gandalara under his rule, which is why he stole the Ra’ira. He’s also forced Tarani’s uncle, the world’s greatest glassblower, to create two duplicates of this mystical stone for some reason.
In a weird and dumb twist, Gharlas tells us that he got these duplicates of the stone made and then changed his mind and tried to throw them away, so now they’re just out in the world somewhere waiting to be a plot hook in the next novel. Rikardon gets stabbed, not by Gharlas or somebody working for him, but by somebody else who wants to claim a bounty put down by Worfin, because if somebody places a bounty in the first act, the gun better go off in the third act.
Volikar kills himself while being held hostage by Gharlas in one of those “I’m no use to him dead so use this opportunity to escape” deals. I don’t want to spoil a certain piece of Netflix original programming, but suffice to say, if you know what I’m talking about, you’ll agree with me that the same thing was done a lot better there. Gharlas escapes, and just before he dies Volikar is all “Look in my mystery hiding place oh noooo ghalalrlrlkgk.” They do. There’s a letter there saying that Tarani is the illegitimate daughter of the Queen of someplace and that Volikar wasn’t actually her uncle, but her father. Seeing as how Gharlas is the illegitimate son of the King, it means that they both have the same claim to the throne of Candelabra. It’s also why they both have psychic/magic powers.
By this point, Rikardon and Thymas are pals and the book ends.
I lost count of how many times I thought “I just don’t care!” to myself while reading this book. Never once did I feel like this generic fantasy book earned my interest. I tend to feel that way about a lot of fantasy, when the world-building and the adventure (such as it is) take the place of characters worth caring about, especially when the main character is just a complete Mary Sue. I’m not bashing on fantasy, and I’m definitely not saying that science fiction doesn’t do it. What I’m saying is that it’s a very easy trap to fall into, regardless of genre, and when you’re dealing with a genre that depends strongly on the setting anyway, it’s an even easier trap to fall into.
In the case of this book series, it’s especially egregious because the entire idea for the setting is, basically, “desert world where some people ride giant cats.” That’s what we’ve got. That’s not what I’d call super-creative. And then the plot turns out to be “some guy wants to be king and stole a jewel.” Ouch. C’mon. Give us something we haven’t read about a dozen times already. Oh, he has special powers? So you’re telling me that an evil wizard-thief stole a magic jewel and wants to be king? Wow, that’s so much better. Thanks for clearing that up.
Even that would have been acceptable if I were given characters to follow that I could actually care about. I think that’s an important lesson. Give me good characterization and I’ll forgive you for a lot of literary sins. Not all of them, mind you. But plenty enough.