Book Review: Whetted Bronze by Manning Norvil
Note: This is the second book in the “Odan the Half-God” series, so this review will contain spoilers for the first book, Dream Chariots.
It is a time before recorded history, when what we call the Mediterranean Sea was fertile land, a basin between the continents. The cities of the River war against each other, both for reasons of trade and power, and also to appease their gods. One such city is Eresh, which worships the sword god Zadan. Their greatest hero is Odan, son of a god and the mortal queen of Eresh.
Odan seeks to become a full god, and this has led him to betray Eresh to its enemies, only to save it again when he realized he had been tricked. But politics is complicated. Odan’s feckless half brother Numutef is the heir to the throne of Eresh, but the king’s uncle wants his own son, the cruel Prince Galad, to become king. Both Odan and Galad are interested in marrying the beautiful Princess Zenara, but this is forbidden to Odan as she is his half-sister.
Various sorcerers have their own plans, and the love goddess Tia desires to become queen of all the gods. Can Odan’s great strength, battle prowess and mystic abilities prevail against all odds and bring him what he desires? Or will he be led astray by his hidden desires, to the woe of all around him?
One of the fads of the 1970s was “Ancient Astronauts”, the notion that aliens came to Earth in prehistoric/early historic times and were worshiped as gods, as well as teaching the early humans all the knowledge they needed to start civilization. The most famous book of this ilk is Chariots of the Gods by Erich von Daniken. Enterprising fantasy author Kenneth Bulmer (who wrote under many aliases) mixed the ancient astronauts with the pre-existing “barbarian hero” sub-genre and wrote the Odan trilogy under the name Manning Norvil.
It’s all great fun if you don’t take it seriously. The first chapter of this volume features a character named Kufu the Ox, a lowly shield-bearer who finds himself rallying his archery unit when it’s overrun. Prince Odan shows up at the end of the chapter to help out, and we follow him from there on. Odan is unsurprisingly in the Conan mold, a big brooding fellow who’s known as “Crookback” because he constantly has to slouch to talk to normal humans. (In a hilarious bit, his mother keeps telling him to stand up straight.)
Odan was kidnapped by barbarians as a small child, and grew up learning their ways; but he also has limited magic powers from his god side. The Zenara situation is kind of skeevy, but in fairness to Odan, he met and got the hots for Zenara (and vice versa) before he found out she was his sister. And he also has to deal with his best friend Ankidu likewise pining for Zenara, but unable to pursue her due to his lower social rank. Zenara is barely in this volume, being kidnapped as leverage against Odan by one of the multiple conspiracies working at cross-purposes.
One nice touch is that as the setting is a premature Bronze Age, the language used doesn’t have the words “iron” or “steel” in it, even as metaphors. Also, there’s an appendix with a legend referenced in the main text.
Overall, trashy fun for sword and sorcery fans.