gardner fox bastard orleansI finished Gardner Fox’s The Bastard of Orleans the other day. It sure started strong, and in the first 40-60 pages I thought I might be reading another one as strong as The Borgia Blade. It turns out that despite surface similarities (great action scenes and some old-style “spice”) that it was designed with different effects in mind.

As I contemplated this review I remembered to consider what I always wish other reviewers would do and thought about the novel on its own terms. I believe this book was intended to achieve a different effect than the one I enjoyed more. It was a historical intended to have great action scenes and titillating sex scenes, or scenes with sexy descriptions of women. Fox delivered these things very well, and if that’s what you went in looking for, you’d be very happy.

The Borgia Blade did both of those things as well, but with a little less emphasis on the whole “sexy scenes” department and more emphasis on plot and character (and led to a really thrilling conclusion). It felt as though almost a third to a half of The Bastard of Orleans was devoted to spicy stuff. This left less time for character development or more than a loose/basic plot structure, and the conclusion was a little perfunctory as a result. Characterization was a little basic, so that I never completely understood some of the character’s choices. Why, for instance, he was so in love with beautiful woman 1. rather than beautiful woman 2, of whom he was clearly quite fond and who was devoted to him almost from the first moment they met. Neither woman was written with enough character detail so that I could form an opinion of my own, apart from my disappointment that the protagonist didn’t reward loyalty and affection with loyalty and affection of his own.

Since I was looking to find another “Borgia Blade” I came away disappointed, but I can bet that if I’d read this when I was in my teens I would have been thrilled. Knowing now what I know about writers having to tailor for markets, I’m going to try some more Gardner Fox that was written for Gold Medal or Crest, the publisher of The Borgia Blade. I’ll report what I find here. I do love a good swashbuckler.


2 Comments on “Reviewing

  1. Cool and unique post, Howard. Interesting both because of your open approach to the book’s apparent intent, and because it acknowledges the old school paperback original’s attempts at titillation.
    Today, when two clicks on anyone’s handheld device can call up high definition images explicit enough to make the Marquis de Sade blush, it might be challenging for some to imagine the world of 50 or 60 years ago, when a mere paragraph of euphemistic prose could steam up your glasses.
    When nouns, verbs and adjectives were the hottest thing around. And a line like, “Her breasts strained at their silken prison” could be the most joltingly explicit sentence in the whole book.

    While Gold Medal didn’t always strike gold, I wonder if part of the reason for your preference for The Borgia Blade has to do with the demands of the editors at GM over the editors at Avon. GM is known for their hardboiled crime, mystery, western and thriller novels, but I wonder if anyone has compiled a list of their historical adventures?

    • You had me at “Her breasts strained at their silken prison “.

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