Thursday, January 14, 2016

Richard Blade #4: Slave Of Sarma

Richard Blade #4: Slave Of Sarma, by Jeffrey Lord
September, 1973  Pinnacle Books
(Original publication 1970)

Manning Lee Stokes plays with the formula he’s stuck to for the past three volumes of Richard Blade; this fourth volume breaks the mold with a 40-some page opening sequence which, finally, sheds a little light on Blade’s day job as the top spy for MI6A (ie the subdivision of MI6 which is responsible for Blade’s top-secret trips to Dimension X).

The KGB, we learn, has a section called TWIN which specializes in finding (or creating) exact duplicates of all known enemy agents. J, Blade’s commander (not to be confused with M, of course), has just learned that the “Russian Blade” has left Moscow. He comes up with a ruse to call out the lookalike foreign agent and nab him. Luckily, so far as J is concerned, Blade’s ex-fiance Zoe is about to be married (as we’ll recall, she’s the gal who broke up with Blade last volume). What better instance for a drunken Blade to show up and cause a scene?

The real Blade watches from the shadows as the former love of his life comes out of the church with her new husband and hundreds of wedding attendees. Then a man J has dressed to look like Blade shows up, pretending to be drunk, and causes a scene. The idea is this will out the Russian Blade, or something. Meanwhile someone sneaks up on the real Blade and knocks him out. He wakes up tied to a bed in a cottage, naked, guarded by three thugs. A man in a mask informs Blade that he intends him no harm; he’ll “only” question him via drugs. We get a nicely psychedelic sequence as Blade, unable to lie, skirts around the truth while soaring on sodium pentathol.

Now comes some of Stokes’s patented weird shit – literally. Blade you see has an explosive “buried in his guts.” All he has to do is shit it out – or, as Blade thinks of it, “shit a bomb.” Why or when this was placed there, who knows. I mean, does Blade have to worry about blowing himself up every time he craps? It doesn’t matter, I guess. Instead, Blade begs to be taken to the bathroom, which is a scuzzy toilet outside his cell. He does his business and then reaches down “into his own excreta” and removes the small capsule. (Could you imagine James Bond doing this??)

This capsule, the size of three aspirin, hides an explosive that is almost equal to an atomic blast. It just needs air and two minutes to go off. Blade drops it in the sink, escapes, and the place blows to hell. He gets back in touch with J, who is at wit’s end; J and Lord Leighton, the polio-ravaged, hunchbacked genius behind Project X, have just sent the Russian Blade off into Dimension X under threat of mass destruction. J wants Blade to hurry after him and kill him. Whereas Blade and Leighton think it’s no big deal – the Russian Blade very well may be stuck in some medieval hell for the rest of his life – J is afraid the guy will somehow find his way back to Moscow.

So near page 50 Slave Of Sarma finally takes on the vibe of previous Richard Blade installments; Blade is sent, nude and unarmed, to some new world. Lord Leighton has worked out that annoying setback from The Bronze Axe; now Blade has full memory of his life back on “Home Dimension,” ie Earth. Promptly upon arrival he’s attacked by large, intelligent crabs who are hungry for his flesh. Here Blade also encounters one of the customary series tropes: the cowardly native who will become subservient to him. This is Pelops, a weakly schoolteacher who when we meet him is buried to his neck in the sand, about to become crab food.

Blade saves him, thus being granted Pelops’s subservience. Also per series formula Pelops will info-dump scads of detail on Blade. Pelops was once a teacher in the court of Sarma, the nearest kingdom, a matriarchal society ruled with an iron fist by Queen Pphira, a supposedly-immortal beauty who has had many daughters over the years but who is still young and gorgeous. Not to mention – again per the series formula – insatiable. Pelops is small and spindly, as are most Sarmian men; as is customary, studly Blade towers over the native men. (Yet the native women, again per series formula, are all built like Victoria’s Secret models…)

Pelops was made a slave by his wife – the only way out of marriage – as women rule in Sarma. Now the slave patrols are looking for him, with the beautiful blonde Princess Zeena in tow. One of Pphira’s many daughters, Blade figures Zeena might be able to provide him safe purchase into the kingdom, where he hopes to find news of his “twin brother,” aka the Russian Blade lookalike. Zeena doesn’t take so kindly to being abducted, even if she’s quickly becoming enamored with the superhumanly-endowed Blade. And when Blade “lightly cuffs” her for her insolence, she’s even more head over heels for him. (I wouldn’t recommend trying this in the real world, though.)

Indeed, Zeena is so hot for Blade that she gives him, that very night, the gift of “shedding her virgin blood” on him. You see, Zeena is a virgin, and has already decided Blade’s the man to take care of the problem. But what Blade discovers, after this brief and not very graphic sequence, is that sex equals marriage in Sarma, and now Zeena is his wife! After this the blonde beauty hies off for Sarma, hoping to pave the way for Blade’s glorious entry into the city, while for some unspecified reason Blade roughs it in a nearby gladiatorial training camp…not that anything is made of this development.

But Zeena turns out to be gone for good. Blade is eventually dragged to Sarma, Pelops in tow, as a slave rather than as the conquering husband of Princess Zeena. He finds the girl has been sent off on a “punishment ship,” and also that Queen Pphira, very curious to see what this godlike Blade is like after hearing so many of Zeena’s stories, wants him as her latest bedmate – but only if Blade can defeat her latest champion in mortal combat. So begins a long, tautly-written sequence in which Blade, unarmed, battles Pphira’s top warrior in pitch darkness. The warrior is blind, and Stokes well captures the tension of Blade’s plight.

Victorious, Blade is bathed and ushered into the private chambers of the Queen, where she waits for him naked on her bed. The winner of the bout was promised immediate sex with Pphira, and we learn she’s ready and waiting; she even becomes sexually excited by Blade’s rundown of the bloody battle he just endured. “Sinuous as a cat,” Pphira is a raven-haired beauty with “small breasts” and the looks of a young woman, not to mention being possessed with an insatiable sex drive, despite being very, very old. (Another recurring character-type in Stokes’s work; see also Queen Beatta, Madame Hee, and Gerda von Rothe.)

The Richard Blade series is strong with the “man conquers” theme, with Blade often relying on his massive muscles and massive manhood to subdue feisty women. Slave Of Sarma takes this subtext to overt levels, with Blade telling himself he will “need his sex” to win this one. And have no fear, he succeeds, sexually subduing Queen Pphira in the most explicit sex scene in the book – that is, after he’s “boxed her lightly, with quasi-affection, on each cheek with his huge hand.” (Pphira kind of likes it, but I still wouldn’t recommend this in the real world.)

By this time he was again ready. Tremendously ready. Blade was big by any standards and by Sarmaian measurement he was huge. Nearly grotesque. He ripped off his leathern kilt and flung it away. Queen Pphira took one look and screamed, but not for her guards. She backed away from him, inching up the bed, her hand pressed to her mouth. 

“I cannot, Blade. I cannot! You are too big. You will kill me.” 

Blade pulled her back. “I recall,” he said with mock lewdness, “that it is said to be a pleasant death. And you make too much of it, Pphira.” Cruelly, with deliberate malice, he added, “Zeena made me no complaints.” And he thrust his fingers into her again. Not too gently. He did not like this ageless beauty, nor trust her, but he wanted her at the moment More important - he must dominate her. It was now or never. A sword of flesh, he thought wryly, is sometimes better than a sword of steel. 

She did not cry out for her guards. Blade had gambled that she wouldn't. He seized her, ankle by ankle, and pulled her apart in a slim white tender V. He raised her legs high and over his broad shoulders and he battered at her with no mercy. 

Pphira was small and compact, very tight and moist, and she did scream softly as he ravaged her, filling her near to bursting. Again came the soft scream, this time muted and blurred. She locked her legs around his neck and pulled at his buttocks. She began to claw and scratch. His wound throbbed and Blade ignored it. 

It was not the first time that he had made love for his life, for his plans, to gain his objectives, and he supposed it would not be the last time. A man must do what he must and take it as it came. One thing he knew – he had never enjoyed it more.

It goes on for a while, Pphira enjoying “an endless series of orgasms” before Blade finally allows himself to “spew.” Good grief! But as is typical with the previous Richard Blade books, and Stokes in general, it tapers off after this lurid blast; Pphira will grant Blade whatever he wants, and he wants his own ship. He claims it’s to compete in the games held for the arrival of the sort of emperor of the land, Otto the Black, who is arriving in Sarma soon. But really Blade wants to sail across the Purple Sea to the Burning Lands, where he’s heard his “twin” was last spotted.

Pelops serving on his crew of slaves, Blade competes in a naval battle so arbitrary that you think you’re reading a different book. Meanwhile the obese Otto the Black watches from afar, Pphira at his side; we learn that Otto is a notorious sodomite and enjoys forcibly raping men…in fact, if Blade loses the battle (and survives), he will be dragged to Otto’s quarters, where he’ll be promptly raped! But of course Blade wins, escaping on the sea and taking us into the super-weird Chapter 16, which is even more arbitrary than the naval battle.

Purporting to be “From the writings of Aknir, Palace Philosopher of Greater Sarma, in the year 10536 AB – After Blade,” this chapter, printed in all italics, is the first-person narration of Richard Blade himself, supposedly translated from letters found in a bottle in the ocean centuries ago(?!). As we know, Stokes introduced first-person narration to the Nick Carter: Killmaster series, and I wonder if Chapter 16 of Slave Of Sarma was his attempt at doing the same thing for the Richard Blade series. If so, he was doomed to failure, as series producer Lyle Kenyon Engel held the reigns on this one and was a self-proclaimed disliker of first-person narrative.

Unsurprisingly, Blade comes off as a fussy blowhard in his narration, which is just how Stokes made Nick Carter sound in those first-person novels. The “year of 10536 AB” is not explored nor explained (other than Aknir’s wonderfully-offhand comment that his era is “somewhat effete”), but it’s interesting how Aknir’s opening commentary comes off like the “historical Jesus” scholarship so prevalent around the time Stokes was writing the novel. Could this have been his spoof of it? Aknir even doubts a “Richard Blade” ever existed. Otherwise, about the only notable outcome of Chapter 16 is that Blade’s ship comes across another ship, one filled with women.

It’s a pirate ship, the women being the loot, but the pirates are long gone, killed in a storm or somesuch. Zeena is among the women, though she’s insane; Blade learns she was “passed around among the pirates forty times a day”(!) and eventually lost her mind, no longer even capable of speech.  Also there is another princess aboard, this one just as young and hot (again, per tradition), though mysteriously untouched by the pirates: her name is Canda, and she claims to be the daughter of El Kal, ruler of some Arabian Nights-style kingdom in the Burning Lands. This is why the pirates didn’t rape her; their fear of El Kal.

Blade splits off with a few people, Pelops, Canda, and Zeena among them, and they endure a grueling (and page-consuming) trip across the desert wastes. Of course, Canda gives herself to Blade one night, even though she constantly mocks him. Stokes delivers another somewhat-explicit sequence, one that starts off with the goofy image of Blade’s leather pants, rotten and brittle from the desert elements, ripping open beneath the “massive protuberance” of his hard-on!

Finally we come to the city of El Kal, named after its ruler, where Blade’s “twin” serves as Grand Vizier. But the man, whose name is Gregor Petroshansky, claims to mean Blade no harm. In fact he wants Blade to explain what’s happened to him; all Gregor knows is that he was strapped to a table by J and Lord Leighton, and the next thing he knew he was here. Speaking with a goofy, over-the-top English accent (“old bean” and the like), Gregor’s been living the high life in El Kal – not to mention banging Princess Canda. In fact, Canda is having difficulty deciding which Blade is better in bed.

This actually serves as the climax of the novel – El Kal (speaking his daughter’s wishes) deems that both men will have two days each to serve Canda, and whichever she chooses as the better lay will be made prince of the city. The other will be killed; El Kal women are “notoriously promiscuous,” so it’s the only accepted way to ensure they won’t go back to banging their exes. Stokes piles it on, with Blade engaging the young woman in a few more somewhat-explicit sequences, capped off by Gregor showing up in Canda’s cell while Blade is in, uh, mid-thrust, holding a lance at Blade’s back. 

Canda’s been doped on the native ganja, it turns out, and Gregor’s been using it to cloud his mind from Lord Leighton’s computer; he doesn’t want to return to Home Dimension. The finale sees Blade continuing to hump Canda under Gregor’s watchful eyes(!) before the two men engage in desperate combat, all while the computer finally locks in on them and begins beaming them back to Home Dimension. It’s a memorable finale for sure, one that sees Blade of course the lone survivor but so injured that he’s immediately taken to surgery. We learn, though, that he’ll make a full recovery. Who doubted it?

Anyway, Slave Of Sarma was a lot of fun, though as typical with Stokes a little too bloated and padded at times (just like my reviews!). Stokes was very prolific, which occasionally had negative repercussions on his work; Slave Of Sarma fortunately is a Stokes novel that keeps moving, for the most part, and also ties up most of its subplots. I also found myself enjoying it more than previous installments, though I think my favorite so far was the previous volume, Jewel Of Tharn.

And that cover painting isn’t homoerotic at all!!



I love these reviews of yours!

Johny Malone said...

I think it's homoerotic: Blade shows the butt, not the girl.

Joe Kenney said...

Thanks for the comments, guys. Al, glad you enjoy these reviews!

Marty McKee said...

El Kal, eh? So Stokes was a Superman fan?

AndyDecker said...

To think that the French wrote additional 180 novels or so of the series. I wonder if they tweaked the concept or still followed Stokes' concept including the "conquering with flesh"? As far as I gathered it was the last of the pulp series which got cancelled only a few years ago.

Joe Kenney said...

Good to hear from you, Marty and Andy. I'd love to think of Stokes as a Superman fan. And Andy, I tried researching those French Richard Blade books is hard to come by, and I had to rely on Google Translator. You're right, looks like it came to a close in 2014 or so. I think they did vary up the formula at times; one volume was apparently a "Man In The High Castle" riff and took place in a world that had been conquered by the Nazis. There was also a Russian run of the series in the '90s that featured original storylines. I bet both Lyle Kenyon Engel and Manning Lee Stokes would've both been shocked back in 1969 if they'd known this series would go on to such a future!