The Sword of Rhiannon

Leigh Brackett
The Sword of Rhiannon Cover

The Sword of Rhiannon


Matthew Carse was born on Earth but spent most of his life on Mars. He's a former archeologist and now more a treasure hunter on the hot, dry, dying plains of Mars. When a native Martian, Penkawr, follows him, he ambushes the Martian who then shows Carse a great treasure: the Sword of Rhiannon, the ancient Martian god, the Cursed one. Penkawr is afraid that if he shows the sword to anyone else, that other person would rob him. Instead, Carse realizes that Penkawr must have gotten the sword out of the legendary Tomb of Rhiannon which should be filled with treasure. So, Carse forces Penkawr to guide them into the tomb. However, once inside Penkawr finds a way to pay back: he shoves Carse into a strange, dark ball of energy.

Carse feels he's falling for a long time and that even something strange is messing with his mind. When the fall ends, he finds himself back in the tomb but it doesn't take long for him to realized that he's traveled to the past. A million years to the past where Mars is verdantly green and the Sea Kings sail the milky oceans. Carse in now in a strange land whose people and customs he doesn't know. (Luckily, they all still speak High Martian so Carse only has a strange accent...)

This is a stand-alone pulp fiction book with sea pirates on Mars, ancient gods and curses. Carse explores the old world together with the reader. He's also a pulp hero, very sure of himself and without much depth. He even gets a thief side-kick for comic relief.

THe book has two named female characters. They both are women of power in the respective societies but I got the feeling that the societies are otherwise patriarchal. Ywain is a pround and cruel woman, ruler of her country. The other woman is a a seer. They both have lives beyond their relationship with Carse.

The storyline was different that I expected, which is a good thing. Carse is quickly arrested rather than evading his enemies.

Brackett has a very sparse style. While she does describe places, we don't get much descriptions of people. For example, Earth humans and Martian humans can tell each other apart with a glance. I don't know what their differences are. Indeed, individual people aren't described at all.

This million-year old Mars has three humanoide races collectively called Halflings. They've evolved from different species thatn apes. I found them fascinating but we don't spend much time with them.

If you enjoy fast-paced pulp SF, you could enjoy this book but don't expect it to be anything else.