Richard Blade #1: The Bronze Axe

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It’s called “The Bronze Axe,” by Jeffrey Lord, and guess what: there’s a dude on the cover swinging an axe which might well be bronze. Truth in advertising! Also on the cover, a young lady who may or may not be wearing underwear… we’re off to a strong start here.

The best pulp books like to kick things off in media res. You might expect this tail of a dimension-hopping James Bond-type to open with our hero fighting off enemy spies, or perhaps waking up in bed next to a beautiful dame. Alas, no.

Instead, we are treated to an opening chapter where Richard Blade, inter-dimensional man of mystery, reads a newspaper article about “What’s ahead in technology.” Holy foreshadowing, Batman! We also learn that Blade has been a “top man in British espionage circles” for nearly twenty years, that his girlfriend, “the sloe-eyed beauty” Zoe Cornwall is waiting for him at a cottage in Dorset, and that Blade is on leave from secret agentry, courtesy of his chief, J. So, basically, we’re jumping in at the least interesting moment possible.

But then! The phone rings! It’s Blade’s boss, J! He needs Blade to come see him in The City, stat. It is, Blade is promised, just a short meeting about something that definitely won’t interrupt his vacation or plunge him into adventures in a treacherous new world!

J, it transpires, runs MI6-A, “the very special branch of the Special Branch.” Which begs the question: are their American counterparts the CIA-A? Is there a KGB-A?

J takes Blade to a super-secret installation beneath the Tower of London to meet Lord Leighton, the “head boffin” of British science (as the book is as at great pains to explain to its dullard American readers, “boffin” is what the British call smart people). Lord Leighton is a polio-crippled hunchback with a huge room full of mainframe computers and a plan.

Apparently, Lord L needs an experimental subject who is in near perfect mental and physical condition, and supposedly the strapping, dashing, hunky Richard Blade fits the bill. Lord Leighton claims that it was the computer which spit out Blade’s name, but I think we all know that Lord L has been swiping right on grindr.

You may think I’m joking, but no: Lord L orders Blade to strip naked and put on a loincloth (which the book tells us “barely covers his genitals”). But this isn’t all Lord L has in store for our beefy secret agent man, not by a long shot:

He took a small pot from a shelf and began busily applying a viscous dark substance to Blade’s naked flesh.

Just when you thought it couldn’t get kinkier, Lord L straps Blade into a chair in a glass cube and attaches electrodes to his bare bod. The plan, supposedly, is that the computer will transfer knowledge directly to Blade’s brain, making him a genius in the space of a few moments.

This all seems a little weird to our man Richard Blade (rightly so, I think) so he’s all, “Hold the phone!” to Lord Leighton. But Lord Leighton gives him a short “For England” speech. Inspirational jingoism is really all it takes to get Dick Blade to do questionable things. For example: letting a hunchbacked weirdo dress him in a loincloth, cover him in grease, strap him to a chair and apply electric shocks to his brain.

Blade acquiesces and the switch is thrown.

Dick Blade wakes up naked, lying in the grass, to find a girl who identifies herself as Princess Taleen standing over him. Blade gets up, and finds that he is, as the book is at pains to remind us, totally stark nudeybuff. Apparently the loin cloth didn’t make the trip to… wherever this is.

For a moment the girl ran her eyes over his body and he saw approval, then she shrugged and handed him a short sword. It was bloodstained on the point.

Just another typical Tuesday for supersecret agent Richard Blade.

The princess, it transpires, is being pursued by men with hounds. She tells Blade that he is in a land called Alb and that she is the daughter of King Voth. She then orders him to save her. Blade agrees to do so, although not before noticing her fine figure and “small firm breasts.” This special moment is interrupted when they are attacked by a hound and Blade has to kill it with his new short sword. The two take off for the forest.

At this point, Blade realizes his memory of his past life is fading. He tries to cling to it as best he can.

Blade, by the way, is still in his birthday suit. The princess and he keep falling into each other, being forced to snuggle together for warmth, and having other sexy adventures, but they don’t actually do the nasty.

In the forest they encounter the Drus, who are a secretive sect of female druids who engage in human sacrifice. Princess Taleen wants to avoid them at all costs, but Blade takes it into his head that he wants to get close and watch their unspeakable rites. He does so and witnesses the chief Dru lady, who has silver hair and is a real hottie, stab a naked girl to death with a golden sword. Then Blade and Taleen almost get caught by one of the Drus and Blade has to kill her. This, it seems, is a big no-no in Alb, despite the fact that the Drus apparently engage in human sacrifice. Blade and the princess hightail it out of the forest.

They make it to a town called Sarum Vil where Taleen’s cousin Lycanto has mustered an army and is preparing to fight against vicious sea raiders lead by Redbeard the barbarian. Lycanto immediately has Blade locked up for being a spy for Redbeard.

Oh, I should mention that just before he reaches the town Blade finally acquires a pair of britches from a scarecrow. At last he’s wearing trousers. But not for long!

Blade is locked away in a small hut. His jailer and keeper is an ugly little bald guy named Sylvo who has comic relief written all over him. Sylvo is nice to Blade and gives him a lot of useful information, but he can’t let him escape because he will get in trouble. Blade has pinned his hopes on the idea that Princess Taleen will put in a kind word for him with her cousin. What actually happens is that Lycanto’s wife, Queen Alwyth, shows up in the middle of the night, cloaked and veiled. She checks the manly Richard Blade out, exchanges some pointed repartee with him, and then says,

“You are a saucy rogue! Taleen spoke the truth again. Take down your breeches, Blade.”

Despite being forced to drop trou for the queen’s inspection, nothing happens. Blade is allowed to pull his britches up, and Alwyth tells him that she believes him to be a wizard and that she wants him to kill her husband and then become her consort. Blade plays along, getting turned on by her ‘scent’ (basically every single woman in this book is described as wearing some sort of ‘chypre’ perfume). He asks to see her face. Queen Alwyth pulls off her veil, and half her face is beautiful and the other half hideously scarred, Two-Face style.

Blade is a little put off by this, but manages to regain his poise when she opens up her cloak and shows him the goods. Then… she leaves.

Blade is taken from the hut to this big war council where various chiefs and nobles debate whether or not he is a spy. A captain named Cunobar the Gray takes Blade’s side, while another named Horsa opposes him. The council decides, naturally, that Blade should get to prove himself in single combat (because clearly no spy would be good at hand-to-hand combat). Blade picks Horsa to fight. Horsa agrees to it, but only if they fight in “the fire ring.” Sweet!

Blade requests that Sylvo be his servant for the fight, which is granted. He secretly instructs Sylvo to get ready during the fight to leave, and to find Princess Taleen.

Blade fights Horsa in a ring of flames and hot coals. Blade has a sword and shield, but you will be unsurprised at this point to learn that he is fighting nude. Horsa has the titular bronze axe.

The fight begins! Horsa keeps backing Blade up against the ring, forcing him to singe his sculpted buttocks in the flames. Blade keeps dodging and parrying, though, and is able to cut Horsa up and tire him out until he stumbles and drops his massive axe. Instead of taking the axe, Blade insults Horsa and tells him to pick it up. Horsa, being the typical fantasy barbarian, goes into a rage and charges Blade heedlessly. Blade gets a good blow in, then backs Horsa into the fire before stabbing him in the chest. Point: Dick Blade.

Blade claims Horsa’s bronze axe as his own, which is good because otherwise the title of this book would be ‘The Generic Short Sword’. As victor, Blade gets Horsa’s property, including his house. When Blade goes to ‘inspect’ it, he instead makes his escape, meeting up with Sylvo and the Princess and riding off into the sunset.

Back on the run once more for several days, Blade starts having sexy dreamtimes about the silver-haired Dru lady, who in his dreams is named Drusilla. During the day things are less sexy, because Blade and Taleen keep arguing .Also, Sylvo is present. Having Sylvo around automatially makes any situation 130% less sexy. And I include in that statement the following interlude:

Blade’s burned buttocks are chafing him while he rides horseback. Fortunately, Sylvo has an ointment, and we get a touching scene where Blade drops his trousers so Sylvo can rub ointment on his butt. Nope, not making this up.

There was an odd, and thoughtful, expression on Sylvo’s seamed and scapegrace face as he applied the ointment in even strokes.

I’ll bet.

Blade discovers that Sylvo stole a bunch of stuff from Queen Alwyth’s house while he was rescuing Princess Taleen. This includes some a black pearl, which Blade keeps. I’m sure this will have no significance to the story later on!!!!

The party is walking through the forest when they are ambushed by nets and a group of armed men. These attackers have been sent by Queen Beata, whom the princess was escaping when she met Blade. Blade tries to fight them off but is knocked unconscious. He awakes in Queen Beata’s dungeons next to Sylvo, thus averting any immediate possibility of a kinky situation.

However! Queen B’s servants come for Blade. He is cleaned up, taken upstairs, fed, and then given an audience with Queen Beata – in her private chambers! The Queen informs him that he had better sex her up hella good or she’ll have him killed. Blade is fully ready to oblige, because Blade is human Viagra.

Now we get our first real ‘explicitly described sexual encounter’ as per the Wikipedia description of this series. Unfortunately, Queen Beata isn’t young and nubile like Princess Taleen. She’s an old woman who somehow makes herself appear young. Towards the climax of the encounter Blade notices that she has false teeth, and then –

Her wig had tumbled to the floor beside the couch and in the fading candle gleam she was a bald-pated hag with a painted skull for a face.

Thanks, “The Bronze Axe,” that was definitely the steamy love scene we were all waiting for.

Blade has apparently sexed up Queen GILF sufficiently to keep himself from immediate death, although he can’t persuade her to promise the same for Sylvo. As for Taleen, Beata is holding her for ransom from King Voth, so she shouldn’t be in any immediate danger.

Having made sweet sweet love to the evil crone, Blade takes time to collect his thoughts about Princess Taleen:

Blade’s smile was faint as he turned from the window. He would not have harm come to Taleen. She was an irksome child yet not so much child that she did not at times tempt his flesh

Okay Richard Blade, suddenly the whole Taleen thing just went from sexy to creepy.

Queen Beata decides that Sylvo can live… if Blade can save him from three angry bears in her gladiatorial arena. When Blade enters the arena, he’s in for another surprise: Taleen is there too, topless and tied to a stake, all ready to be bear food. I guess that ransom wasn’t that important to the queen after all?

The scenario is setup so that Blade will have to choose who to save, Sylvo or Taleen, but being a heroic agent of MI6-A, he manages to save both of them. The crowd is furious, and so is Queen Beata, but before Blade, Sylvo, and Taleen are murdered to death for their insolent victory, Redbeard the barbarian attacks Queen Beata’s castle.

The next part of the story contains a lot of rape. Like, literally, the word ‘rape’, a bunch of times. The barbarians attack the castle and rape pretty much everyone, indiscriminately. The book is like, “Some soldiers were raping so-and-so. Blade walked by the hall, where some people were being raped. Everything was rapalicious.” It’s all disturbingly matter-of-fact, but at least it spares us explicit depictions. Way to be rape-y, book.

Anyway, Taleen does not get raped, nor, thank the gods, does Sylvo, because nobody wanted to read about that. Blade decides that he is going to ingratiate himself with these rape-happy barbarians, so he starts challenging their warriors to fights and beating them. This impresses Redbeard, and especially his clean-shaven second-in-command, Jarl, so they decide not to kill Blade and his companions. Queen Beata, on the other hand, we are told, is raped repeatedly and then left out in a cage to die.

You know, it’s like, I didn’t like her? But I didn’t hate her that much.

Taleen, by this time, having seen Blade save her from bears, is madly in love with him, and keeps on professing her willingness to follow him anywhere and die with him.

Meanwhile, Blade is convinced that he caught a glimpse of his beloved Drusilla near Redbeard during the attack on the castle. He asks Jarl about her, but Jarl won’t tell him anything.

By this point it is becoming clear that Blade has a basic strategy in any given situation: first, figure out who is in charge. Then, if it is a woman, make love to her. If it is a man, fight him. Since Blade is now in Redbeard’s camp, he goes with strategy #2, challenging the chieftain to a fight.

Redbeard is a giant of a man, and he decides they will fight with bare hands. Luckily, Blade can still manage to remember the karate and judo techniques he used to kill men back in the good ‘ol home dimension.

Blade kept trying to remember. He flexed his right hand at his side, extending the thumb, tightening the muscles, pulling the fingers straight into a chopping edge. That was it! He ran the hand along his bare leg and felt the callouses from the tip of his little finger to his wrist. Yes. it was coming back to him now. His right hand was, literally, a flesh axe.

Unfortunately for Blade’s, um, “flesh axe,” Redbeard is pretty much a straight-up video game boss, invulnerable to most blows until Blade finds his weak point. Which is: to kick him in the butt, jump on his back, and strangle him to death with his own beard.

Having killed Redbeard, Blade is now the leader of the rape-happy sea raider barbarians, and Jarl is his second-in-command. However, someone is not pleased about Redbeard’s death. An assassin stabs Blade with a poisoned knife. The only person who can cure him is Drusilla, the hot silver-haired Dru, who finally appears for real. As Blade lies sick in a cabin aboard a ship, she gives him powerful drugs and hypnotizes him, telling him that she will rule secretly through him, like she had planned to do through Redbeard.

And then, she gives him blowjobs.

“We Drus do only this to men. What we do among ourselves you may not know, or any man. Lie still, Lord Blade, and empty yourself of all dark spirits. They cannot harm me, for I am Drusilla!”

One day, after emptying Blade of his, um, dark spirits, Drusilla leaves his cabin and is never seen again. No, really, she’s gone. I thought this was a trick, and there’d be a plot twist where everyone thought Drusilla was dead, but she she was really alive. yeah, nope.

Well, there is a plot twist of sorts, but it’s that Taleen pushed Drusilla overboard out of jealousy. Yeah, that’s pretty much it for Drusilla. After being hyped up so much, as Blade’s mysterious one-true-love, she dies offscreen, and in a manner that isn’t explained until later.

Blade has finally healed up just as the ships arrive at the land of Voth, ruled by King Voth of the North, who is Taleen’s father. They land at a small fishing village called Bourne, but there are rapey deeds afoot:

When Blade and Jarl landed in Bourne they found the town a smoking ruin full of stink. It had been well raped. Not a soul greeted them.

What??? Someone else is going around raping?

This turns out to be the work of Redbeard’s old arch-rival Fjordar, who is even rape-ier than Redbeard was. Blade and Jarl decide to part ways – Jarl will take the barbarians and go fight Fjordar, and Blade, Sylvo, and Taleen will continue on to Voth. They split up, but Sylvo takes one of the barbarian women, who like to run around busty and topless, with him as his wife.

They reach the city. By this time, Blade has begun having stabbing pains in his head. He begins to realize that it must be Lord Leighton and his computer, reaching out for him.

One night after a bad headache, Taleen knocks on his door. She confesses to having killed Drusilla. Then, they finally bang, but not after some bad-porn-flick level dialogue:

“Ah, Blade! You are monstrous big. I begin to feel afraid. I am virgin, Blade. Will it hurt me much?”

Actually, it’s a pretty short, anticlimactic scene considering how long we had to wait for it. Anyway, they make love, and are on the point of doing so again when the headache comes back with a vengeance. Blade has a weird hallucination involving falling into Taleen’s vagina and the black pearl and the bronze axe – and then we’re back in jolly old England, listening to Lord Leighton and J discuss Blade.

Apparently they have gotten him back alive, but he can remember barely anything of what happened to him. He has, however, somehow come back clutching the black pearl in his hand, which is made of unknown and mysterious materials. Science!

J and Lord Leighton argue over whether they should risk sending Richard Blade back again once he has recovered, but it is clear that Lord Leighton will ultimately win this argument – another 36 times, I’m guessing.

So, you’re probably wondering, as I was, how the hell strapping some electrodes on Blade’s head sent him to another dimension? How do they explain that? Well Isaac Asimov this ain’t. Here’s the ‘explanation’ that ‘head boffin’ Lord Leighton decides to go with:

“I can’t prove it yet, but I think that Blade has been out in another dimension! Not in space, not in time, none of your science-fiction jiggery pokery, but I believe that the computer so disarranged his brain cells that he has been seeing, existing, in a dimension that we cannot see or experience, though we may both be living in the very midst of it at this moment.”

Yeah, okay, groovy man, but then HOW DID BLADE BRING BACK A FUCKING BLACK PEARL??

Sigh.

Overall, I felt this book was not that great. I know, it’s pulp, but pulp should at least be titillating and page turning. This wasn’t either, for the most part. I’ve highlighted the salacious bits, but they were in fact few and far between. The sex scenes for the most part were rather vague, and the payoff with Taleen came way to late to be interesting.

The fight scenes were a highlight, not because they were amazing, but because everything else was so fucking dull. Blade wanders aimlessly from Point A to Point B without much in the way of larger goals. He escapes from people. He gets captured by people. Various women attempt to seduce him. He has to fight for his life. He escapes again. Rinse, lather, repeat. *YAWN*

We have to bear in mind that this book was published in 1969.

That said, there’s a shit-ton of problematic content. Blade’s attitudes toward women are incredibly chauvinist by any standard. Princess Taleen, Queen Alwyth, and Queen Beata all conform strictly to stereotypes. Taleen is a shrew and an airhead, Alwyth is the seductress, and Beata is the evil hag.

Of course that doesn’t stop of any of these women from showing Blade their tits at the drop of a hat. Also, it’s not completely clear that Taleen isn’t young. Like, really young. Like, gross and definitely illegal, young. But at least she doesn’t get fucking raped to death, unlike Queen Beata.

The casualness with which the book treats rape is disturbing. Even Blade is pretty blasé about it. After being initially put off by a bunch of barbarians raping their way through Queen Beata’s castle, his attitude is, “Well, I guess that is just how these guys roll!” The sea raiders rape so much it’s borderline comical. It’s like a Monty Python skit gone horribly wrong. It also seems to have no impact on any of the characters in the book. I mean, I don’t really want the descriptions of rape to be more explicit or graphic. But it feels like it should mean something to these characters!

One interesting thing to note before I wrap up: it is not spelled out explicitly in the book, but I’m pretty sure that Jarl the barbarian chief is a woman cross-dressing as a man. Right at the end, before Jarl parts ways with Blade, Blade notices a whiff of chypre, the scent that the noblewomen of Alb all seem to wear. Jarl also wants to tell Blade something, but stops at the last minute. Odds are that something would have been, “Blade, I’m a woman!” And knowing this book, that would have been followed by her showing Blade her tits. So, sorry you missed that one, Blade.

Next time we join Dick Blade for another trip to Dimension X for some Asian stereotypes in… “The Jade Warrior”!

 

 

 

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