Friday, August 07, 2009

Forgotten Books: Exile's Quest - Richard Meade (Ben Haas)

Regular readers of this blog know that I’m a fan of the late Ben Haas, who wrote Westerns as John Benteen, Thorne Douglas, Richard Meade, and possibly other names, in addition to historical and mainstream novels under his own name. Some of you may not be aware, though, that he also wrote three sword-and-sorcery novels, two as by Richard Meade and one under the name Quinn Reade. One of the Meade novels is our Forgotten Book this week.

By the time EXILE’S QUEST was published in 1970, the Robert E. Howard, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and J.R.R. Tolkien booms had been going on for several years, and editors were looking for those sorts of action-packed fantasy novels. EXILE’S QUEST actually has some science-fiction trappings to it, because, like Robert Silverberg’s CONQUERORS FROM THE DARKNESS from several weeks ago, it takes place on Earth. In EXILE’S QUEST, it’s a barbaric Earth thousands of years after a nuclear war. Civilization has worked itself back up to a medieval level, so there are kings and barons and lots of swordplay. The hero of this one, a young nobleman named Gallt, is the Baron of the Iron Mountains and swears his allegiance to Sigreith, King of Boorn and Emperor of the Gray Lands. (About where Germany used to be, I’d say.) In a fight with another nobleman over a woman, Gallt accidentally kills his opponent, and so the king strips him of his title and sentences him to death . . . only there’s a way out for Gallt. He just has to agree to lead an army of prisoners from the king’s dungeons on an expedition into the Unknown Lands, discover what happened to a previous expedition that never came back, and retrieve a mystical and mysterious Stone of Power.

I’m well aware that this is a pretty stereotypical plot, but I don’t think it was quite as much of a cliché nearly forty years ago when Haas wrote this novel. What elevates it to a level worth reading is his ability to craft a gritty, fast-moving story using those traditional elements, just as he does in his Westerns. There are some vividly bizarre images as Gallt and his men encounter several different sorts of mutants left over from the nuclear war, and as always in a Haas novel, the action scenes are good, especially the one-on-one battles.

When it comes to heroic fantasy, EXILE’S QUEST is nowhere near the level of Robert E. Howard, but I’d say it’s as good as John Jakes’ Brak novels and better than Lin Carter’s Thongor and Gardner Fox’s Kothar and Kyrik novels. Haas’s Westerns are better than his sword-and-sorcery novels, but EXILE’S QUEST is well worth reading. Had he lived longer (he died of a heart attack just a few years later at a relatively young age), and had Signet put a better cover on this book and the other Meade fantasy novel, THE SWORD OF MORNING STAR, Haas might have developed into a much bigger name in that field. That wasn’t to be, but we can enjoy the books of his that we do have, and this isn’t a bad place to start if you haven’t sampled his work.


pattinase (abbott) said...

I really admire the group of you who slips from fantasy to westerns to crime to sci-fi, etc. I can't wrap my head around new worlds so easily.

Charles Gramlich said...

How weird. I was just looking at this book on my shelves yesterday and getting ready to review it for Goodreads. Definitely a good book. I didn't think it was as good as the first Kyrik and first couple of Kothar books, but was better than the later ones in both those series. Better than Thongar certainly, and many other knock offs.

Anonymous said...

This is an enjoyable pulp thriller, as are virtually all of the books I've read by Haas, and I've amassed quite a collection.

Hey James, you once mentioned that you thought Haas wrote one of the early Lassiter titles, A Hell of a Way to Die. Do you know of any other little known titles out there that might be by this author?

I've been going over the Sundance series and picking out the ones by Haas. The guy wrote in a very distinctive fashion-- tight, fast prose with really hateful villains (who always get what's coming to them in spades) and plenty of unobtrusive historical details that add resonance to the story without ever slowing it down.
Ben Haas is a lost treasure of latter day pulp fiction, I think.

John Hocking

Anonymous said...

I just found this book last week at a Half Price Books and bought it. Haven't read it yet. I am currently working my way through his Fargo novels and I am a fan of his Sundance novels too. I also enjoyed a stand alone novel he wrote as John Benteen, The Trail Ends at Hell. The book was as good as the title.


RJR said...

My favorite Haas books are the Fargo books as John Benteen. Probably my favorite western series of all time. I also enjoyed The Lost Fraulein and The Danube Runs Red.


Tabatha said...

Hello! Prompt, if you please, what name was by half-man and half-toad in the novel Exile's Quest by Richard Meade?
my e-mail: