Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Quest of the Dark Lady

Ben Haas (1926-1977) sold his first story to the pulps when he was 18 years of age. After serving as a Sergeant in the U.S. Army, and working in the steel industry, Haas became a full-time writer in 1961. He used pseudonyms like Thorne Douglas, Richard Meade, John Benteen, and William Kane. I'm familiar with the author's western writing, but wanted to try something a little different from the author. 

I decided to read another vintage sword-and-sorcery novel, a Haas-penned paperback called Quest of the Dark Lady. It was written under the pseudonym Quinn Reade. The book was first published by Belmont in 1969 using artwork by Jeff Jones. It was printed again by Belmont using a different cover by Jeff Jones. The publisher re-cycled artwork that was first used on the Belmont paperback The Quest of Kadji by Lin Carter. The book was also published in the U.K. by Paramount using that same artwork. 

In the book, readers discover that the Earth was devastated by a nuclear war hundreds (if not thousands) of years ago. What remains is a scarred civilization that resembles the Middle-Ages – men on horseback fight for King and Crown using swords, shields, and magic. The only known human population dwells in a placed called The Iron Lands. It is here that King (sometimes referred to as Emperor) Langax protects the people with a vast military force. Beyond the safety of The Iron Lands lies the Terrible East, a desolate landscape plagued by hideous monsters.

Years ago, Langax made the unfortunate mistake of ousting all of the sorcerers and magicians from The Iron Lands. In doing so, he then became vulnerable to some sort of spell originating in the Terrible East. This spell places Langax in a deep coma. He awakens briefly to advise his staff that the only savior now is an entity (or human) known as the Dark Lady. But, she lies somewhere in the Terrible East. The only person who can find her lies in Langax's dungeon awaiting execution for sabotage. That man is a former high-ranking soldier named Wulf.

There's so much to love about this simple 140-page adventure novel. The mystery surrounding why Wulf lies in a dungeon is slowly fed to the reader in the early pages. Eventually, this backstory is spelled out for the reader, but part of the book's reading pleasure is this core mystery. Surprisingly, Haas also includes a partner for Wulf, a fiery swordswoman who also plays a romantic role. When these two team up with a sorcerer, the three embark on a Hero's Quest to find the Dark Lady and save the kingdom.

This is a wildly entertaining, simple sword-and-sorcery novel that has plenty of action-oriented adventure. The monsters rear their ugly heads, the secret of the Dark Lady is revealed, and Wulf's exposure as an admirable hero are chief components making this an easy recommendation. But, get the second printing if you can locate it. It has interior artwork panels to enhance the great story.

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

1 comment:

  1. Sword and sorcery isn't really my thing, but something about this seemed familiar. I've spent enough time in comic book stored over the years to have seen Wulf the Barbarian from Atlas/Seaboard comics. Like this original novel, it looks like a Conan type thing. They must be related, no?