July 3, 2016
Brak the Barbarian
John Jakes, you magnificent bastard. Brak the Barbarian served up a feast, complete with tankard of ale and haunch of beef, dripping with its own juices.
Brak the Barbarian? The blatant Conan ripoff? Indeed. A glorious homage, hitting all the right notes on a Khurdisani zitar. Turgid prose? Check. Archaic, quasi-medieval/middle-eastern settings? Check. Much as Conan can cross a border and jump from the classical era to the golden age of piracy, Brak can perform similar feats, though the conceit is more central asian and middle-eastern than european. Impractical attire? Check. Though in fairness this is a misconception concerning Conan, fostered, I believe by Marvel Comics keeping the poor Cimmerian in a fur diaper for untold issues. Brak, at least, is allowed a greater degree of style, sporting a lion-skin loincloth, complete with tail dangling from the back. Evil wizards delivering lengthy monologues? Check. Sketchily drawn characters and ethnic stereotypes? Check. Lovecraftian demons? Check. It’s all there and it’s all sublimely absurd.
But Jakes knows what he’s doing. He’s obviously enjoyed the writing as much as I enjoyed the reading. He’s in on the joke, but it’s not mocking, it’s not disrespectful. He gets the source material and he doesn’t look down upon it.
His barbarian — a blonde from the north with a long braid, not a dark haired northman with a square cut mane, so you can tell at a glance he’s not Conan — is pragmatic, superstitious, disdainful of civilization, and seems to possess a certain rude code of honor. Look, as a reader you know what you’re getting here. And it’s exactly what this reader wanted. It’s second tier sword and sorcery, but so what? It hit the spot. Brak the Barbarian will sit proudly on the shelf next to Kothar the Barbarian, and — should I ever acquire any — above Thongor the Barbarian. Perhaps a couple shelves above.
Hail Brak! Long may his broadsword shine.