Among the haul I picked up at the North Texas RPG Con was Edgar Rice Burroughs’ I Am a Barbarian. I’m not ashamed to admit that I was drawn by the cover. It appears to be early Boris Vallejo, prior to his style taking on a glossy sheen. Surprisingly, the cover depicts (more or less) a scene that actually occurs in the narrative, near the end. I found that a happy bonus.
The book is a relatively conventional historical novel. This may come as a surprise to those who know ERB only from Tarzan or John Carter. But ERB’s output spanned multiple genres, viz. The Mucker. Barbarian is a first person narrative by a Briton enslaved by the Romans who becomes the lifelong body slave of Caligula. The early sections are probably the most entertaining, and those in which ERB allows himself the most freedom. Once he gets into Caligula’s adulthood, the story sticks closely to the then-accepted outline of Julio-Claudian intrigue, incest, and murder. (For a less orthodox take on the subject, read Dynasty: The Rise and Fall of the House of Caesar.) The latter half of Barbarian reads like a refresher course in Roman history. But happily ERB knows how to keep things moving, and he spices up the tale with a love story and that scene shown on the cover. Unhappily, he apparently got bored, since the book simply ends. Perhaps he intended to write a sequel. I was hoping for some idea of the narrator’s life after the death of Caligula. I suppose I must simply get used to disappointment. Nonetheless, I recommend this one. It moves fast, maintains the readers interest, and does an excellent job of bringing the color, pageantry, and misery of early Imperial Rome to life.
And now another Savage Journal entry. The end is drawing nigh.
In battle I seldom kill with animus, dear diary. The enemy, if not exactly faceless, is generally not so different from me – a lesser, more civilized version of myself, just doing what he can to stay alive, the same as I am. My anger is relatively impersonal, as impersonal as possible given that the bastard is trying to kill me. But today I met with an enemy I would kill with gleeful animus.
Yaslina’s legion is now a unified, breathing force. It is still green, but it is gaining experience and confidence on the march. The internal dissension in the Empire has boiled up to open conflict. Armies march and counter-march, secret negotiations commence, treachery brews. Yaslina, despite the stress, is, I swear, reveling in it all. She lives for each high stakes confrontation.
In our elaborate campaign tent – carpeted with thick, patterned rugs, warmed with smoldering braziers – we sat in padded curule chairs facing an Imperial emissary. Within that one man was embodied the worst of civilization. Gaius was a heroic porcelain statue. Outwardly he would impress those who looked for the foppish, ornamented, coiffed and powdered in their martial figures. But it was all veneer – tip him over and he would shatter. His gilded cuirass was light, designed for comfort and ostentation. It would not withstand a single sword stroke. His manners and expressions were languid, amused, poisonous. Within a single, florid utterance he would simultaneously cajole, flatter, bribe, threaten, and insult. To claim he was two faced would be to short change him. He was, in short, an unctuous peacock. That he could back up his words with the strength of several highly disciplined and seasoned legions only made him more insufferable.
Yaslina, in high dudgeon, red spots of fury burning her cheeks, sent him packing. He sauntered out with a mocking, self-satisfied smirk on his powdered face.
The minor skirmishes and isolated civil uprisings are about to become serious and irreversible. What I began out of regard for Yaslina (if I may restrict myself to ‘regard’) with no other sentiment than my overarching philosophical disdain for civilization, is now personal. Thanks to the pompous, oleaginous Gaius, I will unleash all of the considerable fury of the barbarian on my enemy. I will enjoy it, dear diary. I promise you Gaius will not.