Night Shade Books, 2012, 320 pages
Jane Carver is nobody's idea of a space princess. A hard-ridin', hard-lovin' biker chick and ex-Airborne Ranger, Jane is as surprised as anyone else when, on the run from the law, she ducks into the wrong cave at the wrong time - and wakes up butt-naked on an exotic alien planet light-years away from everything she's ever known. Waar is a savage world of four-armed tiger-men, sky-pirates, slaves, gladiators, and purple-skinned warriors in thrall to a bloodthirsty code of honor and chivalry. Caught up in a disgraced nobleman's quest to win back the hand of a sexy alien princess, Jane encounters bizarre wonders and dangers unlike anything she ever ran into back home. Then again, Waar has never seen anyone like Jane before.
Both a loving tribute and scathing parody of the swashbuckling space fantasies of yore, Jane Carver of Waar introduces an unforgettable new science-fiction heroine. Nathan Long is a screen and prose writer with two movies, a Saturday-morning adventure series, and several TV episodes to his name. His official website is: www.sabrepunk.com.
Obviously, there is still a fanbase out there for John Carter of Mars. Disney, you suck.
So, right from the title, you know that Jane Carver of Waar is not hiding what it's about. It's an (almost) straight-faced rewrite of Edgar Rice Burroughs's A Princess of Mars, but casting a 21st-century 6'2" red-headed ex-Airborne Ranger biker chick in the role of John Carter.
(By the way — Nathan Long? Dude? A little bit of research, please? Women can go to airborne school, but they still cannot become Rangers. I have no doubt that Jane Carver could qualify as a Ranger, 'cause she's fucking
"Updated" rewrites of beloved classics are risky things. You can be too faithful, and then you're just imitating. You can be too satirical, and then you're just mocking the thing that the people who are reading your version love. (Lev Grossman, that means you.) And let's face it, John Carter is eminently mockable. Written in 1917, it's a fantastic planetary romance and I still love Barsoom to death, but Edgar Rice Burroughs was not that great a writer, John Carter was a total bestest-at-everything Gary Stu, like most genre protagonists of his day, and of course there's a whole colonialist angle you could pursue if you really want to go there.
Nathan Long goes there, but it's subtle. Well, kind of subtle.
Jane Carver arrives on Waar exactly the same way John Carter did — on the run from the law, she stumbles into a cave and "Zap!" She's on another planet. Where she discovers that thanks to this planet's lower gravity, she has superhuman strength and can leap over the heads of the gigantic purple tiger-centaurs who replace Burroughs's Tharks. Just like John Carter, Jane is captured by the warlike "savages" of Waar, the Aarurrh, and spends time as a slave before impressing them with her mighty ass-kicking abilities.
At this point, Jane's story deviates slightly. She meets an Oran prince named Sai, whose bride,
I took a pack from a bird saddle and started filling it with stuff from the chest; strange fruits—or vegetables maybe, I couldn't tell—little round yellow ones, long twisty white ones, like curly-cue string beans, sweet- smelling bread, cold cuts, little meat pies with crust the color of boiled lobster, a clay jar sealed with wax that sloshed when I moved it. "So what was all this about, anyway?" I asked. "Why did those guys attack you and take that girl?"
"She is no mere girl. She is the Aldhanshai Wen-Jhai, daughter of our Aldhanan, Kor-Har, the ruler of Ora, the greatest nation on Waar. She is...was, my betrothed. The love of my life. He who stole her is Kedac-Zir, Dhanan of Kalnah, and Kir-Dhanan of all Ora. I am Sai-Far, son of Shen-Far, Dhanan of Sensa."
Well, that all went in one ear and out the other. The only thing that stuck was that his name was Sai something. I stuck out a hand. "Jane Carver, of..." I remembered just in time. "Of I don’t know."
Sai bowed where he was sitting and crossed his wrists like they were chained. "Your servant."
"But why did he attack you?"
He sighed. "Uncivilized barbarians that we are in Ora, we continue an old custom that should have died out in the dark ages; "The Sanfallah", or to give it a truer name, the bride-napping. Though my family and Wen-Jhai’s had both approved the marriage, custom dictates that I must come to her father’s castle like a brigand, duel with her father—the Aldhanan no less—and drag her off to my lands, defending my right to have her against all comers."
I passed him some of the meat pies and veggies. "Eat. You gotta get your strength back."
He took the chow, but offered some back to me. "And you? Do you not hunger?"
I hadn't realized it ’til then, but I did hunger. I hungered like dammit. Traveling light-years in a second, or whatever I’d done, sure built up a powerful appetite.
I was worried that the grub might kill me, being from another planet and all, but I was going to die slow and painful anyway if I didn't eat. I’ll take quick and painful any day. I nibbled one of the meat pies. The meat tasted like pumpkin. I mean it tasted like meat, but like pumpkin meat. Like cows that had been eating pumpkins. Ah hell, forget it. You try and describe a taste. I dare you. Whatever it was, it was food. I wolfed down four little pies as Sai continued his story.
"Usually the ordeal is purely ceremonial. The groom and the father touch swords, the father falls back, the groom departs with his bride as the women wail the traditional laments, and all that went as arranged. But this Kedac-Zir, the animal, decided to exercise the other part of the ritual and take Wen-Jhai from me before I brought her safely to my home."
I stopped chewing. "This was all part of some ritual? Killing all these guys? Can’t you sic the law on him?"
Sai made a face. "No no. Kedac-Zir is perfectly within his rights. Here in benighted Ora we believe that a man who can’t hold onto his bride doesn't deserve to keep her. Wen-Jhai is Kedac-Zir’s betrothed now, unless I can reach him before the wedding and defeat him in single combat. Then she would be mine again. But as you can see, I unfortunately am a man of words, not actions. And a wounded man of words at that. She is lost to me, forever."
"Man, that blows chunks." Poor kid. I guess it doesn't matter where you go in the universe, the jocks still pick on the brains.
He nodded. "I know not this phrase, but your meaning is clear, and true. When news of this defeat reaches home I will not be welcome in my father’s house. To have lost my bride is one thing. Not to have died defending her is unforgivable. I will be scorned by society. Perhaps I will enter the priesthood."
At this point, Jane Carver of Waar becomes a little bit subversive, because rather than rescuing a princess herself, Jane tags along with Sai, helping him rescue his princess while wryly observing Oran culture. Like the Barsoomians, the Orans (who are purple instead of red) wear little more than jewel-encrusted dental floss — and as Jane happily observes, the men are just as scantily-clad as the women. They are also sexist, they practice slavery, and the whole "Sanfallah" thing is something they all know is stupid but they follow it anyway. Jane wrestles with being friends with people whose practices would be barbaric back on Earth. Meanwhile, Sai, who is a snooty, uptight prig constantly having difficulty with the fact that Jane is a giant pink super-strong demoness, turns out to be not exactly John Carter himself. In fact, he's a wuss, and he's going after the captain of the football team, Kedac-Zir, whom tradition demands he meet in single combat if he wants to win back Wen-Jhai, even though that's obviously suicidal.
Jane and Sai, and Sai's best friend Lan, another prince, fight Aarurrh and sky pirates, get captured and sold as gladiators, sneak into Kedac-Zir's stronghold, escape, find out there's a plot to overthrow the ruler of Ora, and eventually get the girl.
Jane Carver of Waar is a lot of fun. It's pulp adventure in the tradition of Burroughs, and like ERB, Nathan Long's writing is not fantastic but it is exciting and descriptive. Jane is a modern heroine: lusty, crude, violent, and loyal.
Do I recommend this book? Yes, if you like planetary romances. That said, if you haven't read A Princess of Mars, you'll miss a lot. So I recommend this book mostly for ERB fans. Non-ERB fans might enjoy it, but it might fall a little flat as just another wild, slightly subversive "rescue the princess" adventure if you aren't in on the jokes.
Have you read Jane Carver of Waar?
Have you read A Princess of Mars?
Verdict: For fans of John Carter, this is a worthy "sequel" to the Barsoom series. If you haven't read what Jane Carver of Waar is sporking, though, it's still fun enough to stand up on its own, but I highly recommend reading A Princess of Mars first.
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