Historical / Reviews

Book Review: I Am a Barbarian by Edgar Rice Burroughs

I am a barbarian Edgar Rice Burroughs


Genre: Historical Fiction

Who on earth expected a well researched historical take on imperial Rome from Edger Rice Burroughs? Told from the point of view of one of Caligula’s slaves (Brittanicus), this is one of Burroughs’ more mature works. Sadly, it’s long out of print; you’re lucky if you can manage a copy. Note that I Am a Barbarian is one of the only two historical novels written by the author; the other being The Outlaw of Tor.

The Story

Brittanicus is brought by Caligula’s parents to be a companion to their son. The slave watches Caligula grow up from a spoiled brat to an insane ruler. The ruler both trusts and fears Brittanicus. The story describes the adventures of Brittanicus and yes, there is a romantic angle too. Dejah thoris is substituted by the slave girl Attica.

The Style

Action packed, poignant and humorous at times, I am a Barbarian is one of the finest novels Burroughs has ever written. Surprisingly, even his trademark flat characterization is replaced here by well defined and fairly intricate individuals. Burroughs’ writing style is imaginative and crisp.

This is an epic novel of historical adventure and altogether a darn good package. You don’t have to be an ERB fan to enjoy I Am a Barbarian.

Ace Edition (1974).  Cover Art by Boris Vallejo.

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Historical fiction of Robert E. Howard

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Cover of the Week / Historical / Reviews

Cover of the Week: Those About To Die by Daniel P. Mannix (Mayflower, 1972)

Daniel P. Mannix - Those About To Die Daniel P. Mannix - Those About To Die

“Hail Caesar! We who are about to die salute you!”

Mannix’ “Those About to Die” probes deep into the bloody games of imperial Rome. A  provocative work of historical fiction, Those About to Die provides a disturbing account of the lives of the Gladiators. The sadism and torture which ancient Rome forced on its Gladiators have been described with minute detail.

5000 men fought to death, women fed to crocodiles, leopards taught to rape girls. Intensely shocking, yet a true story of savage Rome. May be the Nazis aren’t qualified to make it to the top of “Most Disgusting People Ever” list.

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Historical / Horror / Fantasy / SF / Reviews

Book Review: The Golem and the Djinni by Helene Wecker

The Golem and the Jinni Helene Wecker

This review is a bit out of place since The Book Haven covers vintage books only. However, Helene Wecker’s debut novel is an extraordinary piece of fantasy/historical work that deserves a place in every book hub.

The story

A rabbi (kind of spiritual teacher), who is an expert in Kabbalistic black magic, brings a golem (Chava) to life. When the golem’s master dies, she becomes a free creature.

A djinni called Ahmad was trapped inside a copper flask for centuries. He gets released accidentally in a Lower Manhattan shop.

The mythical beings meet by sheer chance and together they face a threat that challenges their existence. Set in late 19th century New York, this is a remarkable story that blends history with fantasy and offers the readers an amazing voyage.

What’s so good?

On a superficial level, The Golem and the Djinni seems to be an enjoyable magical tale with some truly inventive touches. However, it is also a piece of serious literary work that takes a closer look at immigrant experience and raises philosophical questions about “feeling lost” in a new, strange world.

Helene Wecker’s storytelling skills are impressive. The Golem and the Djinni succeeds in being an intellectual read without being boring. The story flows with a natural ease; the romantic moments come without being melodramatic. You can easily visualize the immigrant Arab and Jewish folks at the turn of the century through the golem and the djinni.

The author exhibits use of parallel storylines with surprising effectiveness. All in all, it doesn’t feel like a debut novel.

P.S. The idea of a golem pairing up with a jinni is at once ridiculous and fantastic. A creature trained to bow becomes friends with a fiery spirit infuriated by chains. Jewish folklore shakes hands with Arabian mythology — Mrs. Wecker should ask for a patent on the subject.

A few hiccups

The plot looks forcefully engineered in a few places. Also, Ahmad‘s (the djinni) character seems less convincing than the perfectly crafted golem. The Golem and the Djinni is perhaps too long (almost 500 pages) for an adult fairy tale, but the author manages to keep the readers interested with an engaging writing style. Mrs. Wecker succeeds in evoking an exotic feel that falls upon the readers like a spell.

About the author

Helene Wecker
Helene Wecker is an American writer with a Master’s degree in fiction. The Golem and the Djinni is her debut novel. It was published in April 2013 by HarperCollins. Mrs. Wecker was nominated for the 2013 Goodreads Choice Awards in two categories: Fantasy and Goodreads Debut Author. She lives near San Francisco with her husband and daughter.

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Historical / Reviews

Book Review: Blood Royal by Robert Payne

Blood royal robert payne

Okay, I admit it. This looks like vintage erotica and smells sleazy. But that’s actually not the case. Blood Royal is about an Englishman who gets involved in a civil war in India in the 17th century. There are lots of intrigues and yes, strong presence of sensual oriental women. Robert Payne, the author, is an English historian and novelist.

Here is an outline of the story:

Stephen and his Persian wife, Meriam plans to leave for England but is summoned by the much feared Emperor Shah Jahan to Red Fort. Shah Jahan’s sons — Dara and Aurangzeb — fight on the question of succession and Stephen and Meriam join Dara. Aurangzeb proves to be stronger and only Stephen makes it to the end. Another woman in Stephen’s life complicates the situation all along. Loyalty, treachery, passion, suspicion joins hand to present some splendid drama.

Certainly an engaging read. And you’ll love the cover if you are a retro guy. Continue reading