Friday, July 13, 2018

Forgotten Books: The Bronze Axe (Richard Blade #1) - Jeffrey Lord (Manning Lee Stokes)

I’ve written before about what I call front porch books—the sort of book I read when I was a teenager, sitting in a lawn chair in the shade of my parents’ front porch on summer days when it was too hot to play baseball. THE BRONZE AXE, the first book in the long-running Richard Blade fantasy adventure series, is definitely a front porch book. Which is not always a good thing and is, in fact, sometimes a mixed blessing.

First some background on the series, which was packaged by Lyle Kenyon Engel before he formed Book Creations Inc, the company I worked for many years later. I’m going by memory here, but I seem to recall reading in an interview with Engel that it was George Glay, the editorial director at Macfadden-Bartell Books, who actually came up with the concept of this series. Knowing how Engel worked, I imagine Glay said something like “How about a series mixing James Bond with Conan?”, since those were two very popular literary figures at the time. So Engel called up Manning Lee Stokes, one of the authors who regularly wrote books for him, and said, “I need a series mixing James Bond with Conan”, and then Stokes came up with everything else. I suspect that’s how it went, anyway.

But no matter what the details of its creation, the Richard Blade series really is James Bond meets Conan. Blade is a top agent in British Intelligence, working for a secret division of MI6 called MI6A, which is headed up by a spymaster known only as J. Blade is recruited as a test subject in an experiment being conducted by gnomish scientest Lord Leighton, who hooks him up to a supercomputer. The object of the experiment is to download all the information in the computer directly in Blade’s brain, but there’s a glitch and instead it hurls him into a parallel dimension that comes to be known as Dimension X, which has all sorts of different alternate Earths in it. (I gather that some of this is established in later books.)

In this book, THE BRONZE AXE, Blade winds up in an alternate history version of Bronze Age England, where he rescues a beautiful princess and runs afoul of a beautiful queen, a beautiful witch (the witches are known as Drus, obviously inspired by Druids), and another queen who’s not really beautiful, but Blade fools around with her anyway, as he does most of the women he encounters. When he’s not getting laid, he fights the Dimension X equivalents of Vikings and not surprisingly kills their leader so he can take over the dreaded sea raiders. Then Lord Leighton fixes the problem with the computer and manages to bring him back to good old England in the Swinging Sixties.

Stokes was one of the regular authors on the Nick Carter, Killmaster secret agent series also packaged by Engel, and I gobbled those novels down with great enjoyment in those days (definite front porch books). I didn’t know at the time who was writing them, but I didn’t care, either. Now, all these decades later, I find that Stokes’ prose hasn’t aged all that well, at least in this book. He can get awfully long-winded and pretentious at times.

However, there are also some really good action scenes in THE BRONZE AXE, some likable and interesting characters, and a surprising amount of humor, most of which actually works. If I had read this when it was first published in 1969, I suspect I would have loved it. Somehow I never saw it back then, though. Reading it now, I still got a considerable amount of enjoyment from it, despite being able to see its flaws.

A little more history on the series: Macfadden-Bartell published six Richard Blade books in 1969-72, all with pretty good covers by Jack Faragasso, but that seemed to be the end of the series. Then in 1973, Engel struck a deal with Pinnacle Books, which had grown enormously in the past few years due to the success of the Executioner, the Destroyer, and other men’s adventure series. Pinnacle reprinted the six books originally published by Macfadden-Bartell, this time with covers by Tony Destefano that I don’t like nearly as well, and then continued on with original novels until the series totaled 37 books. Manning Lee Stokes wrote the first eight, and Roland J. Green wrote all the books after that except for #30, which was written by Ray Faraday Nelson. Engel, or an editor who worked for him, talked to author Geo. W. Proctor about continuing the series, but that never came about. After Russian reprints of the early books were successful, a couple of Russian authors began writing their own sequels, so there are a number of unauthorized Richard Blade novels that have only been published in Russia and have never appeared in English.

I have the first three books and then maybe a dozen more scattered through the rest of the series. I enjoyed THE BRONZE AXE enough that I’ll probably try to round up the rest of the Manning Lee Stokes entries, but whether I continue beyond that is sort of doubtful since I’m not a fan of Roland Green’s work. I’m glad I read this one, though. It brought back enough of those old feelings to create quite a bit of nostalgia for those days. I wouldn’t go back there permanently, but I sure like to visit.


George said...

I enjoyed all the detail you provided about the origins of the BLADE series. I have a set of these books, but never got around to reading them.

Adventuresfantastic said...

I may have to track some of these down.

Charles Gramlich said...

I've reviewed quite a few of these on Goodreads. I didn't read The Bronze Axe first but I have read it, as an adult. Not my favorite of the series but certainly had some good stuff in it.

Anonymous said...




Todd Mason said...

While I'm a fan of Nelson's work...but suspect he might or might not put much effort into book 30 of such a series....thanks for the lowdown...

Andy Bow said...

I understand that the French version got up to #163 as of 2005. Go to amazon books advanced search and search for Author: Jeffrey Lord, Language: French, for lists of some of the French books (84). Most of the 37 English books are something like sword&planet, which I call sword&dimension, which I enjoyed. The few other English books dealt with Blade transported to high-tech worlds, which doesn't appeal to me and which I skipped.

I'd really like to see someone translate the French books into English, at a reasonable price, especially the sword&dimension books.

James Reasoner said...

I'd be interested in reading some of those, too, Andy, if they were ever translated.

Andy Bow said...

The following list are the Blade books that I consider sword&dimension, as described in my previous post. The missing books are Blade in hi-tech worlds, which I didn't read.
#1 - The Bronze Axe
#2 - The Jade Warrior
#3 - Jewel Of Tharn
#4 - Slave Of Sarma
#5 - Liberator Of Jed
#6 - Monster Of The Maze
#7 - Pearl Of Patmos
#8 - Undying World
#9 - Kingdom Of Royth
#12 - King Of Zunga
#13 - The Golden Steed
#14 - The Temples Of Ayocan
#16 - The Crystal Seas
#18 - Warlords Of Gaikon
#20 - Guardians Of The Coral Throne
#21 - Champion Of The Gods
#22 - The Forests Of Gleor
#23 - Empire Of Blood
#25 - The Torian Pearls
#27 - Master Of The Hashomi
#28 - Wizard Of Rentoro
#31 - Gladiators Of Hapanu
#32 - Pirates Of Gohar
#33 - Killer Plants Of Binaark
#35 - The Lords Of The Crimson River
#37 - Warriors Of Latan

Here's the Amazon list of Blade books it has.

Here's the link to Blade in Amazon France. Shows 200+ books, with 6 published in April, 2017. One book is listed as 199.

In the upper right corner, Trier par (Sort) Date de parution (Publication date).

Dark Worlds Club said...

I've read this one but never got around to the others. All I remember was there wasn't a lot of supernatural monsters in it. Some giant bears but no squigdies. It would have seemed more Conan with a sorcerer and some kind of ultra dimensional demon or something. If you were to compare it to Robert E. Howard it might be more towards his historical stuff rather than a good HPL inspired tale like "Queen of the Black Coast". There were other non-magical Sword & Sorcery books out at that time like George Earl Bailey's The Saga of Thorgrim while others are Sword & Planet disguised as S&S. (Kenneth Bulmer's Swords of the Barbarians.)It was all about the cover art. Everybody wanted a slice of the Lancer pie.