The Arcana and a Beastmaster; two reviews leftover from last week

THE LAST SUN: The Tarot Sequence Book One by KD Edwards gets points for an unusual urban setting, the colony that Atlantis erected on Nantucket Island (apparently the continent’s sinking took place a lot later in this mythos) by transporting pieces of mundane cities to build it together, creating a rather eclectic layout. Protagonist Rune is the last of the Sun house (Atlantean aristocracy being modeled on the Major Arcana), a private investigator tricked into guarding the heir to The Lovers until he reaches age while also being hired to find a missing child of House Justice, all of which, of course, turns out more sinister than anticipated.

 

I enjoyed this, and would probably have liked it more if I were more of an urban fantasy fan. It’s competently plotted, and I liked that it had a gay protagonist. However I could have done without a tragic gang rape as part of his backstory. And given that Arcana heads seem to reflect the nature of their cards, why is Lord Tower relatively normal when that card is an ominous card of doom?

I’m a lot less fond of space Westerns than I am urban fantasy, but Andre Norton’s THE BEAST MASTER is a very good space Western. Protagonist Hosteen Storm is a Navajo veteran in te war with the alien Xik; humanity won, but Earth got blown to smithereens (fortunately we were already out in the stars). Storm, slightly PTSDed, shows up on the planet of Arzor, nominally to use his skills and his telepathic link with his beasts (eagle, meerkats, dune cat) on the frontier but secretly to avenge an old wrong. Much to his surprise and annoyance, he finds himself bonding with the colonists, even the man he’s out for revenge on. He also likes the native Norbies, who respect him as a warrior. Then he discovers a hidden Xik base on Arzor, from which the aliens are stirring up a Norbie/human war. It’s his chance to settle the score with the Xik — if he can.

Norton making her hero Native American was a radical step at the time, and Storm is indeed a hero, not a sidekick. He’s extremely capable and respected by everyone, though as Judith Tarr points out, Norton’s portrayal has problems. It’s an all-male cast, which surprisingly didn’t bother me as much as it usually does. My biggest problem is the handling of the aliens. The Norbies are very noble savage, the Xiks are pure evil, apparently willing to whip up a war just for kicks.

This might be Norton’s most successful work, in that it inspired the Marc Singer Beastmaster movies, which are fantasy and only carry over the idea of a hero with telepathic animal partners (as does the much less entertaining TV series). I was actually surprised how little role that aspect plays in the book; the animals need as much conventional training as they do telepathic guidance. The telepathy could probably have been dropped altogether.

Regardless, it really is a great book, if the flaws are not deal-breakers for you.

#SFWApro. All rights to images remain with current holders.

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