Garth grapples with ghastly gods

Loren RossonOne of my favorite books in high school was The Seven Altars of Dusarra, by Lawrence Watt-Evans.

It’s a sword-and-sorcery fantasy, the second in a quartet called The Lords of Dus. The Lure of the Basilisk is the first, The Sword of Bheleu the third, and The Book of Silence the fourth. The third and fourth volumes are really good, too, but none so fired my imagination like the second.

The Seven Altars of Dusarra

“The Seven Altars of Dusarra” will soon be available from the library in paperback. Click the graphic to place a hold.

The story’s hero is Garth the Overman, who is sent to a faraway city to rob the temples of some nasty cults. Planning isn’t his forte. You wouldn’t hire this guy for secrecy or low profile. He stumbles blindly into situations and relies on hack-and-slash. He kills people and then regrets it. He calls forth a citywide manhunt and has to sleep in horse stalls to avoid arrest. He’s a morally ambiguous figure like Conan, and the world he inhabits is like those of the classic pulp fantasies–decadent and grim, full of shady rogues, evil priests, and self-serving wizards.

The city of Dusarra in particular reminds me of Fritz Leiber’s Lankhmar, especially the Street of the Temples devoted to a variety of perverse deities. There’s Tema (goddess of the moon), Andhur Regvos (god of darkness and blindness), Sai (goddess of torture and pain), Aghad (god of hate and treachery), P’hul (goddess of disease and decay), Bheleu (god of war and destruction), and finally, the one whose “name is not spoken” (god of death).

The cults are chilling if not outright ghastly. The priests of Andhur Regvos blind themselves, those of Sai practice torture and human sacrifice, those of P’hul have hideous skin diseases and enjoy spreading them.

Garth gets into big trouble with the priests of Aghad, who plot an ugly revenge that carries into the fourth book. In another temple he commits an appalling massacre–I’d forgotten how much blood he spills without a second thought to get what he needs.

I’d also forgotten how good these stories are; it’s been a treat to reread them.

In the post-Game of Thrones era we tend to think George Martin invented  “brutal fantasy,” but as I see it, Martin essentially took the dark amoral elements of pulp fantasy (also known as sword-and-sorcery fantasy) and brought them into high fantasy. Game of Thrones has the high epic sweep of Lord of the Rings, but it also has the cloak-and-dagger intrigue of pulps like The Seven Altars of Dusarra.

I need to revisit more of these pulps. I’m sure I still have them in boxes somewhere.

Check out the Lords of Dus series. If you like what you read, try these next:

About Loren Rosson

Loren Rosson heads up the circulation department at the Nashua Public Library. He's worked at the library since graduating from Lewis and Clark College, with the exception of the two years he spent in Lesotho with the Peace Corps, teaching high school.

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