The title Jane Carver of Waar was irresistible when I spotted this book in a friend’s bookshelf. A few subway journeys later (I read when commuting between home and office) I had reached its end and arrived at a clear conclusion: its author Nathan Long delivers the goods, i.e. a successful parody of the classical John Carter of Mars genre with plenty of well-established tropes:
A weird distant planet — check
Unexplained interplanetary journey — check
Six-limbed barbarians — check
Humans of unusual coloring — check
Swashbuckling — check
Airships — check
Pirates — check
Honor before reason — check
True love™ — check
Dastardly deeds — check
Damsel in distress — check
Slavery — check
Gladiators — check
A hero with extraordinary strength and leaping ability — check
However, several Carterian tropes get subverted. The protagonist Jane Carver is a tall and muscular working-class biker, a petty criminal with a few jail stints and a former private in Airborne Rangers. She is uneducated, streetwise and crude, which is reflected in the language of the story, told in a rough first-person prose. Sexism and the associated shoddy treatment of woman are handled in ways that would have been impossible in earlier works of the genre; the author does not mince words when he describes a pre-industrial society in which commoners are treated like dirt by nobles and becoming an outlaw appears to be the best escape from oppression.
While being chased by Californian cops for man-slaughter, Carver stumbles over a small device that teleports her to the distant world of Waar. How and why is never explained (and in this kind of story it is of little importance). She arrives in the middle of a kidnapping scene (in which strange-colored humans fight with swords), rescues a survivor, gets captured and enslaved by a steppe tribe of “tiger centaurs”, escapes, gains other allies, gets embroiled in some aristocratic power-struggles, serves as a gladiator, and performs many acrobatic deeds to rescue a hapless damsel in distress, over whose hand in marriage several high-ranking men fight. “Full speed ahead and damn the torpedoes” appears to be Carver’s motto. And there is a neat reference to the “War God”, a John-Carter-style terrestrial character who had spent some time on Waar 150 years ago, causing much havoc and turmoil before he vanished.
An amusing twist is that Carver, being solidly plebeian, frequently gets annoyed with the nobility’s code of honor and pretensions. Her speech, peppered with 21st-century popcultural references, is on the other hand equally frequently incomprehensible to her two aristocratic comrades-in-arms. Carver is a competent low-level superhero, whereas the two Waarian men that accompany her are foppish and notably less effectual. Their chief adversary, fortunately, lives up to the reader’s expectations: a blackguard straight out of the pulps.
I give Jane Carver of Waar four red planets out of five. It is exactly the adventure it claims to be. The sole shortcoming is that the plot never surprised me.
There is a sequel, Swords of Waar, and I will be happy to read it in the near future.