Friday, July 26, 2013

Forgotten Books: DURANDAL - A Crusader in the Horde by Harold Lamb (1931)

A crusading knight. An evil Byszantine Emperor. The horde of Genghis Khan. And the near-legendary sword of Roland. Toss them all together and you have a great adventure story. And if that tale happens to be told by Harold Lamb - you have an excellent adventure story.

The saga of Frankish knight Sir Hugh of Toranto originally appeared in three long novelettes in Adventure in 1926 and 1927. In 1931 they were assembled and published together for the first and only time by Doubleday Doran, as Durandal: A Crusader in the Horde.

Part 1, originally published as “Durandal,” finds Hugh out crusading with the army of the Emperor Theodore Lascaris. Hugh is chosen to wear the Emperor’s armor into battle, supposedly to protect the ruler’s life and inspire his troops. But it’s really a trick, part of Theodore’s plan to dispose of 700 troublesome Franks, and it nearly succeeds. The problem is that Hugh survives, and gets his hands on the Sword of Roland to boot. Durandal is an awesome blade, so heavy that few men can lift it. Sir Hugh can swing it with one hand, and the effect is devastating.

Part 2, originally “The Sea of the Ravens” sends Hugh into the desert in search of a way home, and - ultimately - his revenge upon Theodore. Here he incurs the enmity of a Shah fleeing from the Mongol horde, and earns the respect of Genghis Khan’s greatest general, Subotai. Together, Hugh and Subotai chase the Shah to the Sea of Ravens (the Caspian Sea) where the Shah gets his just deserts.

In Part 3, originally titled “Rusadan,” Subotai seeks a route to Constantinople, aiming to bring the rest of the known world under the yoke of Genghis. Barring his path is a city manned by Russian Christians, and Hugh is sent as an envoy, in hopes of avoiding war. This suits Hugh, for what he desires most is to reach Constantinople, confront Theodore and expose him as a scoundrel. Though war proves unavoidable, Hugh meets the Georgian princess Rusudan, who leads him - both body and soul - a merry chase for the rest of the book. How Hugh eventually finds peace, and Subotai does or does not conquer the rest of the known world, makes for great reading.

Lamb’s prose, as always, has such power, rhythm and charm that it gets into your blood and sweeps you magically along. I have never read a bad story - or even a bad sentence - by Harold Lamb.

In the 1980s Donald M. Grant issued lavish volumes containing the first two parts of Sir Hugh’s saga, but the third - and longest - portion, involving Rusudan and the conflict between the Mongols and the Georgians has been out of print since 1931. And that’s a dang shame. This is a Forgotten Book that cries out to be remembered.

More Forgotten Books at pattinase!


Rick Robinson said...

The only Lamb I have is Wolf of the Steps, Complete Cossack Adventures vol. 1, a trade paperback, which I have not read.

Evan Lewis said...

It's a GREAT book. Khlit was Lamb's best known and longest-running character.

Shay said...

There are a number of Lamb stories in the magazines on the Unz site. I am going to have to read them.

Evan Lewis said...

Good news, Shay. Thanks!

Howard Andrew Jones said...

I completely agree. It's just a fabulous set of novellas. I supplied the text of Rusudan to Donald M. Grant, and the art has been done for years, but it hasn't yet been inked.

If it can't come out from Grant, I'd like to see about getting it released from Bison along with one or two other Lamb books for a final part of the collection... ideally with the same cover artist.

Howard Andrew Jones

Howard Andrew Jones said...

Shay wrote "There are a number of Lamb stories in the magazines on the Unz site."

Be warned -- these are all later Lamb, when he was writing formulaic stories for Colliers. Read one, or two, but not all of them back to back, because you'll think he always uses the same trick. This isn't representative of his better, and more famous old blood and thunder work from Adventure magazine, when he was writing of Khlit the Cossack and his Crusaders, and where the plots were constantly surprising.

Of the lot there on the UNZ site, "Long Sword" is a standout, and "Alexander's Palace" is pretty good... but they have pretty similar plots. Almost all of his Collier's work felt pretty similar.