Leigh Brackett died forty years ago today. Being in a nostalgic mood, I decided to honor the occasion by rereading her final novel, Reavers of Skaith. While it may have been her last novel, it was my very first exposure--at the tender age of twelve--to her fiction and to her most enduring creation, Eric John Stark. I knew of Leigh by way of The Empire Strikes Back and "Reavers" was the only Brackett the Oswego Public Library had--not that I'm griping, mind you. Reavers of Skaith packed a wallop that I've never forgotten.
I'm not here to review the novel, exactly. It certainly deserves one, but it needs reviewed in context with its older siblings, The Ginger Star and Hounds of Skaith, the three of which make up what has been called The Book of Skaith. While they can be read separately and out of order--the way I did it--I won't inflict that upon all you gentle readers of the DMR blog. No, I just want to take a short look back at how Reavers of Skaith hit me all those years ago and, just maybe, encourage some of the bolder souls out there to have a go at the entire Book of Skaith minus a proper review. I'll try to keep things spoiler-free.
As I pulled that Del Rey paperback off the library shelf on that long ago afternoon, the first thing that hit me was the stunning Steranko cover. Author John Maddox Roberts once said that Steranko's renditions of Eric John Stark perfectly captured the lean, feral intensity of the character. Steranko obviously was on the Stark wavelength, because he did the painting that Brackett chose for the initial Skaith novel, The Ginger Star, before he'd ever heard of EJS. There are some who dislike the second and third Steranko covers for reasons I might explore in a later post.
The novel opens with Stark reverted to his primal "N'Chaka" identity. Being entirely new to the character, I wasn't sure what was going on initially. Brackett soon filled me in with a minimum of info dumpage. Seeing EJS in that state immediately apprised me of his lineal descent from other pulp heroes like Tarzan and Conan, heroes who also possessed just a "thin veneer of civilization."
From there, Stark was off and running... literally. Running across an ancient, dying world full of wondrous marvels and grotesque dangers. It might have been a little hard to keep score--this being the third book in the trilogy--but there was a handy, short glossary penned by Leigh in the back. The pace stays absolutely breakneck throughout, with the plot interweaving threads from the previous books into a satisfying finish. In what would be a seven hundred page doorstopper today, Brackett kept things lean n' mean in this, her swan song. In my opinion, the Book of Skaith is her masterpiece and if I had to come to it via the final book, I won't kick about it. It was all worth it.