It’s the fourth entry in the Richard Blade series: Salve of Sarma! As you can see, after toasting his buns and pickle on the wreckage of a burning ship, our man Blade’s ladyfriend is forced to apply ointment too – ah, sorry, I now see that I misread that. It’s SLAVE, not SALVE. So I guess this image of a groovy 60’s chick copping an awkward feel while an insane Dick Blade attempts to spear the ocean conveys no pertinent information at all.
Apparently we’ll have to read the fucking book, then.
Joking aside, this one was actually not too bad. Manning Lee Stokes dips back into the swords-and-sorcery well a la The Bronze Axe, but this time with superior execution and writing. The result is fairly readable. Not great literature, not even remotely believable, but a fun read nonetheless.
We start with this prosy description of Olde Londontown:
Pavements were shiny and treacherous, slimed by fallen leaves. Fog horns on the river were raucous and surly, their mood matched by that of millions of Londoners as they began the vespertine shove into tube and train and car. A dour day, in all, with Indian summer gone and the drear of winter upcoming.
As is Stokes’s custom, we start out in media blehs, which is to say that nothing of interest whatsoever is happening.
Lord Leighton and J are meeting with a Member of Parliament who is attempting to audit Lord L’s super secret budget. He resents MPs meddling in top secret affairs that they don’t understand. Too be fair, he is spending millions a year to send a naked man into another dimension to play ‘loincloth inspector’ with various local floozies and bring back the occasional useless bauble. One might well question whether this was the best use of taxpayer money.
Lord L is having none of it, though. He manages to obfuscate the MP and send him packing, at least for the time being. “I’ll bet we’ll be hearing more about this later, though!” you think. Or, ideally, not.
J returns to his office to receive a message and get the actual plot rolling. Things are about to get interesting. J learns that Blade left Moscow two weeks ago.
Not the real Blade, no. Heavens no! He doesn’t do useful things like go on actual secret missions. We’re talking about Blade’s Russian body double, the product of a secret Soviet program called TWIN.
TWIN is not a Russian, or an original idea. The Russians adapted it from the Germans, who called it Doppelganger. The Germans in turn had stolen it from the British in World War I. The British called it Code Gemini.
The basic idea behind TWIN, laughably simple, is predicated on the belief that every man, and woman, has a double, somewhere in the world. A ringer.
They say that as though your twin might turn up anywhere on earth. I feel as though the populations where this might occur are rather more constrained, though. It seems unlikely that pale-skinned British secret agent Richard Blade’s double would be found, say, living in the South China Sea, for instance.
Regardless, J has known for years that the Russians had found a double for Blade, and trained him in every way to act like and resemble Blade. They’ve never before put this double into action, but now, it seems, they have.
Now J is all a-flutter. What if Evil KGB Blade were to infilitrate MI6-A?!? Why that devilish double might be able to infiltrate the entire program, get sent to Dimension X himself, and spread his filthy Soviet baby batter all over the place rather than the real Blade’s wholesome, English love milk!!!
If you’re having trouble getting worked up over this prospect, you’re not alone, but let’s just assume that stopping the double is urgent. This book certainly does.
The first thing that J does is call Blade’s love shack in Dorset, where Blade currently has some frilly womanthing in tears with whatever manly misogyny he is currently deploying. J tries to do the thing where you ask the person questions that only they would know, but it doesn’t seem to lead anywhere useful. J commands Blade to report at once, and the spy dutifully acquiesces.
Flash forward to the next chapter. Blade is waiting in the rain outside a chapel where his fair Zoe is getting married… to one Reginald Smythe-Evans, CPA!
Reginald Smythe-Evans, indeed! Reggie! Blade spat and pulled the collar of his trench coat tighter against the rain. It was almost obscenely like something out of PG Wodehouse.
Why yes, it is almost as if this was written by an American whose entire experience of British culture is Wodehouse, combined with the occasional Bond film and Disney’s Mary Poppins!
It’s funny because it’s likely true.
At any rate, there’s a plot twist: the man watching the wedding party emerge from the chapel isn’t the real Richard Blade. Nor is he the Russian double. He’s a… yet another fellow who looks like Blade, sent to cause a disturbance and act as bait for the Russians. The real Blade is watching from a nearby alleyway, with agents of MI6A nearby. It’s a trap within a trap, the sort of over-complicated plot device that Stokes is a bit too fond of. Though it makes at least a bit of sense in a spy story.
Blade keeps an eye out for Russians, careful not to get distracted.
It was a tribute to Blade’s professionalism that he took one look at Zoe’s face, remembered her body for a last time, and then kept his eyes on the actor-Blade.
What a pro!
The actor playing Blade starts his act, playing the drunken spurned lover looking for a fight with the wedding party. In the ensuing pandemonium a florist truck opens its doors and out pour a group of Russian thugs attempting to nab the actor. MI6A agents pop up all over the place, attempting to apprehend the thugs, and chaos ensues. The real Blade is watching all this with fascination when, too late, he hears a sound behind him and then ~SPOILER ALERT~ the Russians nab him.
We cut forward to Blade, chained to a table in an empty room. He is naked, because Blade. Unbeknownst to his captors, Blade has a secret weapon – an explosive capsule. The only problem is that it’s inside him. Specifically, somewhere in his gastrointestinal tract. Blade has swallowed it as an emergency precaution. Now he’s got to, yes, shit it out.
But first, Dick Blade gets a cavity search!
He was turned over and had one hell of a time to keep from squirming as a greased rubber glove searched his rectum.
“Nothing concealed on him,” a voice said. “Absolutely nothing, I’ll swear to that.”
It’s possible that these Russians are a little bit gay, but Blade does have that effect on people!
Blade manages to convince his captors that he really needs to drop the kids off at the pool, if you know what I mean. In an ancient, filthy, nasty outhouse he manages to shit out the capsule, dig through the his own excrement, find the capsule, cut it open with a razor he’s palmed, and dump its contents down the drain – the idea being that this will hopefully result in a nasty explosion in the plumbing.
It’s not one of Dick Blade’s finest hours, to be sure. It works, though, and Blade escapes and is picked up by the Salisbury fire department who are rather bemused to encounter, near the scene of the explosion, a bleeding, naked, muscle-bound man (who maybe, just maybe, makes them feel like, deep down inside, they’d like to give him a rectal exam).
Blade rushes back to London and contacts J, who is relieved to see him. When Blade inquires as to why Blade hasn’t asked him any security questions, J tells him that he knows he’s the real Blade, because they just sent the doppelgänger into Dimension X!
Back at the tower, Blade is stripped down, strapped down, and greased up – and asking questions. Namely, if the doppelgänger is in Dimension X, isn’t the obvious solution just to – not bring him back? Here, Blade is voicing the reader’s own objections.
However, Lord L and J want none of this ‘logic’. They feel that since they have no way of knowing what sort of Dimension X their adversary is in, they don’t know for sure that he can’t come back on his own. The only solution, obviously, is to send the real Blade in after him to track him down and kill him.
A switch is flipped, Blade has the usual psychedelic head trip, and then before we know it, Blade is back in
Phew, took our time getting here, didn’t we? All the way to chapter six to get the interdimensional action started, a new record for this series. Still, the doppelganger subplot is fun. We’ll see if it pays off.
Blade wakes up naked, manly, and buff as usual. He’s lying on a brown beach next to a purple sea, and he is surrounded by giant crabs, clacking their claws ominously as they approach. Blade manages to kill one of the crabs with a rock (No doubt Dick Blade is very experienced with fighting off crabs), which causes its compatriots to fall upon its corpse, buying Blade some time to put some distance between himself and the crabby crustaceans. Others have not been so lucky, as Blade discovers when he passes a skeleton that has been picked clean.
Hearing a cry for help, Blade heads toward the sound – and discovers a head. A man has been buried up to his neck in the sand and left for the crabs. After a certain amount of derring do, Blade manages to dig the man up while fending off the hungry crabs. While he does this, his new friend, whose name is Pelops, drops a load of hot, steaming exposition on Blade:
This land is called ‘Sarma’, which we already knew from the title of the book, and Pelops is a slave who attempted to escape from a cruel man named Equebus. Equebus is a slaver who regularly drops prisoners off in the marshes or on the beach without weapons, clothing and armor to meet their doom. Pelops is very much the typical sort of Blade-companion: small, ugly, cowardly, and absolutely no threat to Blade either physically or sexually.
Freed from the sand and the crabs, Pelops tells Blade that the slavers make a regular patrol down the beach to check on the status of their prisoners. Sure enough, a patrol appears soon after. Blade has an ingenious solution to hide them from the slavers, though: he plucks some reeds from the marsh so that the two can duck beneath the water on the beach and use them as breathing tubes.
The two wade out into the water. Pelops ducks down, but Blade takes a moment to observe the slaver patrol. There are six horsemen. Blade is quick to observe that one of them is a sexy lady horseman:
She rode well, her long mass of golden hair fluttering in the mild sea breeze. She alone rode without a saddle, her long white legs clinging securely to the prancing animal. She wore a short leathern skirt and metal breastplates that flashed like mirrors in the sun.
Blade can’t help but to ogle her shiny breast… plates. He also observes the slavers’ leader, a man in a pointed turban who, spoiler alert, is Equebus. We can tell he’s Bad News, because he has ‘swarthy’ skin and these books are super-duper racist. Equebus makes a pass at the girl and she swats him with her riding crop and rides off in a huff. Once the patrol passes, Pelops fills Blade in on what kids call ‘the deets’.
Her name is Zeena and she is the daughter of Queen Pphira, she who rules Sarma in Bek’s name.
That’s right everyone: it’s Zeena the Warrior Princess!
Cowardly Pelops tells Blade this is no time for fantasizing about women. This earns him the scorn of the manly Blade:
He stroked the dark stubble on his stubborn-chin and regarded the naked little man. Then, because it was his nature, he could not restrain his laughter.
Bullying a naked man who just escaped from slavers and death! You’re a real class act, Dick Blade.
Pelops, stung, informs Blade that he was once betrayed by a woman – his own wife, who sold him into slavery so she could upgrade to a newer model.
“So you see, sire, why I say beware of all women. They are a trap and a snare and a-”
“A delusion,” muttered Blade. “I know what you mean, Pelops.” There were, he had found, certain constraints in any dimension.
Having bonded over this little moment of pure misogyny, Blade and Pelops plan a trap… for the attractive woman they have recently sighted (this is done without any sense of the apparent irony). Pelops walks where Zeena can see him and pretends to be staggering and falling. Zeena approaches,
her full breasts jouncing beneath the metal plates
and Blade attempts to ambush her and pull her off her horse. But Zeena puts up a fight because she is hashtag feisty. Blade has to jump straight onto the neck of the horse and throw it onto the ground. Zeena goes down and manages to flash some titty:
A strap had broken and one perfect breast hung free of its protecting plate. It was her left breast. Blade knelt and put his ear against the velvet flesh, felt the nipple stir in automatic reaction to his touch
Ah, the feel of a stirring nipple!
Blade’s little stunt has, of course, killed the horse, but at least he’s secured this eminently bangable princess. Blade thoughtfully tucks her tit back behind her armor. For some reason Zeena fails to appreciate this chivalrous gesture.
Despite getting off on the wrong tit, so to speak, by the time the three have found a cave by sun down, Zeena is succumbing to Blade’s, um, charms.
“In my country,” said Blade, “We have a sign between men and women. A sign of trust and faith, of friendship and love. Do you in Sarma have such a sign?
Zeena nodded. Without hesitation she grasped his half limp penis* in a firm hand.
BAM CHIKKA WOW WOWwait.
Actually, Blade was talking about kissing, which Zeena has never heard of (handjobs yes, kissing, no!). He ‘teaches’ her about kissing, but they don’t immediately engage in the ol’ gland-to-gland combat.
Pelops gets wise to what’s going on between Blade and Zeena pretty quickly. He warns Blade that in Sarma, sex = marriage. And since Zeena is a princess, the queen will be super pissed if Blade buries the weasel without her say-so. And she won’t say-so, because as far as she’s concerned Blade is an escaped slave. And that means being burnt alive within the bowels of the local deity, Bek-Tor, who, as you might have guessed, takes a ‘pro’ stance on the thorny ethical question of human sacrifice.
So on the one hand, if Blade borks the babe he’ll be burned alive. But on the other hand, she really, really wants it. She approaches Blade and he, being Blade, is able to smell her womanly arousal. I think you know which way this goes.
What follows is a pretty explicit sex scene, by this series standards. It is only slightly marred by a line about Blade’s enormous lingam a tower up-thrust.
(I had to lookup not only ‘lingam’ but ‘nates,’ the word used here to refer to Zeena’s derrier. Manning Lee Stokes, everybody! Making you learn vocabulary while you read trashy sex scenes.)
At any rate, there is a lot of thrusting and throbbing. It turns out Zeena is a virgin. And at the climax she shrieks, “I marry! I marry!”
People say the most awkward things when they’re coming.
After Blade has chomped Warrior Princess Zeena’s chalupa, he, the princess, and Pelops head towards the capital city of Sarmacid. Zeena is now completely won over by Dick Blade’s dick, which Blade hopes can benefit him. Women rule in Sarma, which means Blade’s hot rod, as he admits to himself, is the key to his success:
[H]is survival was largely due to his phallic prowess. Blade, so magnificently conditioned in body and brain, so painstakingly educated and nurtured through his formative years – and now the end product of Lord Leighton’s computer and millions of pounds – now depended almost solely on his ability as a cocksman.
Dick puns, everybody!
But Dick has a plan that is slightly more complicated than porking his way to fame and fortune (although, obviously, that’s a big part of it). First, once they arrive in the city Zeena will introduce him as one of the ‘Battlemen’ – basically, a gladiatorial arena fighter. Blade will win fame and fortune in said arena and then formally ask for Zeena’s hand. From there, total conquest of the Sarmians is no doubt but a step! And then he will be free to search for his sinister Soviet doppelgänger.
This may seem like a somewhat dubious and over-complicated plan to you and me, but that’s how Richard Blade rolls. This is a man who doesn’t just go to the store to buy milk. He conquers and fucks the locals, they make him king, and then they bring him the milk gratis!
They are now close enough to the capital, Sarmacid, that Zeena heads the rest of the way on her own to set the ‘plan’ in motion. Blade, I should mention, has now acquired some clothing – by which I mean a small thong to constrain his highly influential penis. Wearing this, Blade starts training like a Battleman, running 5 miles each day along a route that takes him past a statue of Bek-Tor. Blade is not into Bek-Tor.
Bek-Tor was a hermaphrodite god.
Blade wiped sweat from his face and stared at the god with the revulsion he always felt.
The face might have been that of a lovely woman or a beautiful man. The hair was cut short and thickly curled. The breasts were full and pointed with long nipples, the waist slim and incurving.
At the waist the figure changed into that of a man – and a woman. The legs were sturdy and powerfully muscled. Both sexes were represented in the genitals – there was a mons veneris, a stone vulva, and below this dangled a penis and testicles.
Yes, I know those of you who were hoping that Blade would turn out to be an LGBTQ* ally are pretty disappointed.
Bek, it seems, is the woman half of things, the benign deity. Tor is the evil male half. Blade spits in disgust and is about to turn away when who should appear but MOKANNA!!!!!
Oh wait, I forgot to mention Mokanna. Mokanna is a large, fat man, who according to Zeena is one of the champion Battlemen. From his appearance here, Dick Blade and the reader immediately know that he is devious and conniving. Mokanna tells Blade that Equebus has heard of him and has it in for him, since he wants to be Zeena’s ‘husband’ himself. He informs Blade that Equebus wants him to kill Blade, but he suggests a different plan: Blade will kill Equebus. Equebus is staying in a Battlemen encampment nearby. All Blade has to do is sneak in under cover of night and murderize him.
Blade, sensibly, senses a trap.
Nonetheless, he decides to play along. Mokanna loans Blade a short sword. That night, Blade goes sneaking up to the ravine near the camp where Equebus is supposed to be. He is not there. Seeing a light from one of the huts in the camp and deciding something has gone wrong, Blade pushes on toward it. Arriving in the circle of huts, Blade is in for a shock:
Something lay in the dirt near the door of Mokanna’s hut. A body. A headless body.
He took a few steps toward the thing. Not headless. The head was there. Neatly perched atop the leather clad buttocks. Mokanna’s head.
I wonder if that looks as funny in real life as it does in my head.
Obviously Equebus has double-crossed his double-crosser. Before Blade can say ‘cock’, armed men are swarming around him. Only their sheer numbers suffice to overcome the mighty Blade. They chain him up and Equebus, who is basically one big walking Arab stereotype, appears to give the usual Triumphant Villain Speech(tm).
He has an official proclamation from the Queen to bring Blade to the city in chains. Oh, by the way, the slavers have also captured Pelops because of course they have.
And here, reader, we shall take a break.
Will Blade and Pelops survive? Will Blade be victorious in the blood-soaked Battlemen arena?? Will Blade’s life depend on how good he can sex up the queen???
* So, this is a rather historic use of the word ‘penis’ within the Richard Blade series. It is, as far as I can tell, the first time the actual word has been used rather than a euphemism. Having crossed this bridge, the series never looks back. Literary historians agree that from this moment forward, Richard Blade’s penis becomes increasingly ascendant within the storyline. Some would argue that it will eventually eclipse the man himself in importance.