Friday, September 2, 2011
Forgotten Books: KING - OF THE KHYBER RIFLES by Talbot Mundy
My first close encounter came in In a Righteous Cause, the first of several volumes in Black Dog Books’ Talbot Mundy Library. (That’s reviewed HERE, and available HERE.) That book prompted me to read Tros and Helene, the first two volumes in the Tros of Samothrace saga (Tros reviewed HERE).
And now I’m moving into the Mundy motherload, his series of adventure novels set in India and Afghanistan. King - Of the Khyber Rifles (1916) was Mundy’s second novel, and still his most famous, probably due in part to the 1953 movie version starring Tyrone Power.
If you’re a Robert E. Howard fan, this is familiar territory. These novels provided much of the inspiration for the adventures of Francis Xavier Gordon and his lookalikes, as well as Conan stories like “People of the Black Circle,” that find him among the tribes of the Hills. To me, it’s also familiar thanks to later Mundy-influenced works, like George MacDonald Fraser’s Flashman and the first three (chronologically) Sharpe books by Bernard Cornwell.
The amazing thing about Mundy is that his first-person prose is fresh enough to have been written last week, instead of 95 years ago. This book introduces us to British Captain Athelstan King, sent into the Hills of Afghanistan to prevent a jihad that would boot the English out of India. His mission is to find the near-mythical she-devil/goddess named Yasmini and convince her that her best interests lie in cooperating with the British raj.
The first half of the book showcases King’s wit and personality as he moves ever deeper into the Hills in search of Yasmini, and I enjoyed every word. At roughly the mid-point we finally meet Yasmini and she takes center stage, shifting the story into a mode that reads more like fantasy than historical fiction. That would be okay, except that King has now gone undercover as an Indian doctor, and is so submerged in his role that his personality disappears.
Still, this is great adventure, and I’m eager to read more of Mundy’s interconnected India novels, that will soon introduce another King-like character, Jimgrim.
The 1978 Donald Grant edition features all the original artwork from the Everybody’s Magazine serial and the first hardcover edition by John Clement Coll. The result is a beautiful book, with many full page and two-page illustrations and at least one spot illo on every two-page spread. If you’ve seen the spectacular Grant edition of Howard’s Sowers of the Thunder, illustrated by Roy Krenkel, you have a good idea of what this looks like.
Read! Look! Enjoy!
More Forgotten Books at pattinase!