Book Review: The Chessmen of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs

The final installment in the Barsoom series of omnibus this sees Edgar Rice Burroughs again change focus, with hero John Carter only briefly appearing. The main characters here are Carter’s daughter Tara of Helium and Gahan of Gathol, a prince of another kingdom.

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Tara, engaged to another, is outraged when the uncouth Gahan declares his love for her. In a sulk she takes her flier off to clear her head, only to get caught in a massive storm which sends her flying off into unchartered lands.
Gahan, who gave chase to rescue her is also cast away in a strange corner of Barsoom. First they encounter the kaldanes, intelligence obsessed spider-like creatures who have evolved to ride brainless humanoids called rykors. Tara is captured but wins over one of her captors, Ghek, who begins to doubt if logic and intellect are really the best things. Gahan rescues her and the three flee, but the next settlement they find is little better, with all three captured, although Ghek can escape. Tara initially pleases the ruler but her sharp tongue angers him and he places her as the stakes in a human version of jetan (the Martian version of chess) where the “pieces” fight to the death. Can Gahan triumph to rescue Tara? Can they benefit from unrest in the kingdom? Will they ever get home?
I found this a frustrating book because while ERB has some decent ideas (the kaldanes are interesting, and the premise of the chess-like gladiatorial game has promise) but the execution lets it down.
For starters, there’s less action here, and it lacks the zip of previous instalments. It drags in places and too much of the fighting is rushed or happens off the page, only mentioned later.
The major flaw is the ending, which is terribly rushed. The tension builds only for the cavalry to arrive and everything to Be resolved in a couple of pages. It robs the book of a satisfying conclusion, and feels lazy and slapdash.
The Barsoom series has been a frustrating read, while they are quite fun in places, and some quite gripping, they are riddled with flaws and a couple of the adventures are shaky. I doubt I’ll read any more of the series, unless a second omnibus is ridiculously cheap.
Verdict: Despite good ideas and fresh characters this falls flat, lacking Burroughs’ usual skill for fast flowing action. The ending in particular is weak. 5/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

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