Gardner Fox Swashbucklers

gardner fox bastard orleansBack in 2015 I was pretty thrilled by Gardner Fox’s old historical The Borgia Blade. You can find that review here. I was quite pleased by that one, and a little surprised, as I had abandoned his Kothar sword-and-sorcery stories after several heroic efforts on my part. The Borgia Blade was in a whole different category, as you can see from my review.

I’ve since read another by him still far better than Kothar, but not in the same class as The Borgia Blade, which was so good I’ve continued to search for more gold in his body of work, aided by a list from my friend Morgan Holmes (sword-and-sorcery scholar extraordinaire) that had a whole slew of Fox’s historicals under his own name as well as those written under pseudonyms.

First up (just as soon as I finish some other books) is The Bastard of Orleans. After that will come another Gold Medal paperback, perhaps Terror Over London. I’ve never shared the fascination with Jack the Ripper that many people have, but Chris Hocking tells me that this book is supposed to have a good reputation.

Fox collectionWhen I read The Borgia Blade I was unaware of the reputation for excellence held by the editors of Gold Medal back in the day, skills that might account for them getting the absolute best from Fox. I’ve heard that some of these other books are supposed to be really strong as well — although I’ve also heard from none other than Hocking that one of Fox’s Gold Medals, Queen of Sheba, was terrible. An exception, we think, at least for Gold Medal. I’ve been reading a lot of stuff from that famous old line and all of it has been good to great. If only I’d known sooner when those Gold Medal books were easier, and cheaper, to lay hands on! But I wasn’t ready to try that yet, because I was still finding my way through the fantasy and sword-and-sorcery field.

Why oh why am I reading so much older fiction? Well, when it’s good, it seems to be head and shoulders above a lot of what’s written today. Stronger pacing, leaner yet more descriptive prose. More understatement rather than emotional moping. And NO PADDING. Put that way, it probably makes a lot of sense.

12 Comments on “Gardner Fox Swashbucklers

  1. At this point, I’m just hoping that somebody does etexts. Like you, I wish I’d gotten into Gold Medal and other ’50s-’60s historical adventure paperbacks a lot sooner.

    • I wish the same. I used to see Gold Medal paperbacks all the time in second hand shops when I was a teenager. The line had folded by then, but they were not hard to come by. Now I rarely see them unless they are locked in a cabinet of collectibles.

  2. I started seeing them at pulp conventions ten years or more ago. But I didn’t know enough to even glance at them.

    Boy it sure would be cool if someone would get to creating etexts! That would be a lot of scanning. An occasional publisher is taking care of single authors, but no one’s trying to make the line available.

    • Hmmm…sounds like a job for “Super Howard “! Or “Mighty Hocking “! Along with the likes of Morgan Holmes, you guys seem to know more about these great books than anyone out there.

      • There are many more who know MUCH more than me. I’m just taking you along on the ride as these other guys lead me to all this great old stuff. Wish we could all hang out together and pass books back and forth…

  3. “Why oh why am I reading so much older fiction? Well, when it’s good, it seems to be head and shoulders above a lot of what’s written today. Stronger pacing, leaner yet more descriptive prose. More understatement rather than emotional moping. And NO PADDING. Put that way, it probably makes a lot of sense.”

    That’s about as fine a distillation of the situation as you could ask for.

    • I have some stuff like this kicking around on my bookshelf. Poul Anderson’s Rogue Sword, Calgaich the Swordsman by Shirreffs, The Black Amulet by Don Tracy and Brothers of the Sword by T V Olsen. All are lean, fast moving and fun reads without excessive padding; the way a swashbuckling adventure should be!

      • I’ve read Rogue Sword, and heard about Calgaich, but not the others. What are they about? How do they rate on a 5 point scale? Worth tracking down?

  4. Calgaich is a damn good Celts vs Romans adventure that I would rate a four star read. It could be a little shorter, but it’s so much fun one doesn’t really notice. Black Amulet is a dark tale of Picts set in ancient Britain. Pretty good, I’d rate it a three. Brothers of the Sword is a good Viking adventure set in Iceland, that sort of becomes a chase/survival tale. A solid three star book. Speaking of Vikings, if you want to dabble in something written recently, I highly recommend the works of Giles Kristian. Great detail, excellent characters, simple but strong plotting and tremendous action. They are certainly longer than these older books, but worthy of your attention; the closest I have found to old-school pulp swashbucklers written today!

    • Alright, now you’ve made me want to look up Calgaich for sure, and if you say Kristian writes like the old guys then I definitely want to look. Is there one you liked more than others?

      • Well, this is where the “modern ” part comes in. Kristian’s Viking books are made up of two distinct trilogies; The Raven series and The Sigurd series. The Raven tales are about a thrall named Raven Blood-eye who is taken by raiding Vikings and eventually becomes one of them. The first book is pretty good, but Kristian hits his stride with the second book-Sons of Thunder. This entry features one of the most astounding one-on-one brawls I have ever read; worth the price of admission alone. The second trilogy is actually a prequel series featuring Sigurd, the leader of the Vikings in the Raven trilogy. It goes back to his youth and tells the tale of the betrayal of his family and ris rise to leadership and quest for revenge. All six books are quite good, but I still like the Raven series just a bit more. The historical research is accurate, the details concerning weapons and combat are fascinating and thrilling and Kristian can weave a great tale. His characters are interesting and seem credible to me. Some of the dialogue between the Viking raiders is pretty salty and even comical at times. And be advised, there will be blood. Lots of action and bloodshed, but that’s to be expected when warriors clash with axe, spear and sword. I really love these books, but I am partial to Viking adventures, so your mileage may vary.

  5. Woman of Egypt is my favorite historical novel by Gardner F Fox. It was translated into Norwegian as Gladiatoren og hans kvinne (The Gladiator and His Woman) way back in the late fifties or early sixties. I was lucky enough to find an old, severely used copy. It was, if I remember correctly, written under the pen name Kevin Matthews. Hopefully someone will reprint it someday. By the way, I rate his Kothar and Kyrik novels higher than the dismal Thongor tales by Lin Carter. Brak was the best of the Clonans.

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