On My Shelves: The Lords of Dûs

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     Some years ago, I belonged to a writer's group, one of whose members worked at a bookstore. On occasion he'd bring in a box of stripped (front cover removed) books for people to take home if they wanted.

 

     NOTE: This is an illegal practice, though I didn't know it at the time. "Stripped" books are recorded as "returned" by publishers and are supposed to be destroyed. There are aspects of this practice that I'm unsure of in terms of whether it really makes sense, but I just want to make clear I'm not promoting free stripped books as a legal or reasonable alternative to regular channels.

 

     One day, I picked up a book that I recognized, having seen it with a cover on it before, but not having had the money to buy it at the time. It was titled Lure of the Basilisk, by a guy named Lawrence Watt-Evans, and the reason I remembered it was because the cover had shown an inhuman, red-eyed figure, who I suspected was the protagonist, walking in front of a huge green lizard-creature which I presumed was the titular basilisk.

 

So I took the book home and was immediately hooked, and realized that this was the first book in a series which was formally titled The Lords of Dûs, but which I always thought of as the Garth the Overman series. (It's now available in a large omnibus edition from Wildside Press, which I not only bought but got signed.)

 

     One of the real hooks of the series, to me, was that the protagonist Garth was not a human being, but an Overman – a race of humanoid but very non-human creatures who had supposedly been created by a wizard long before, and who had a quite different culture and some very different biological functions (for instance, they had essentially no sex drive as we know it due to sexual interactions being much more scheduled by a biological cycle than being possible/likely at any time). Garth was an interesting character – mostly logical, considered, patient – but with motives that were still understandable and a code of honor and behavior that made him sympathetic. He leaves the land of the Overmen specifically in search of one thing that's a very human desire: something that will ensure he will be remembered for ages to come.

 

     So he is sent south by the direction of Ao, one of the Wise Women of his people who serves as a prophet, to seek out a being called the King in Yellow who will send him on some mission or set of missions which, he is assured, will win him fame "from now until the end of the world".

 

     The first mission is to retrieve the legendary creature called the Basilisk and bring it to the King. This Garth does – while at the same time becoming embroiled in the politics of the dying bordertown of Skelleth, opposing a wizard and gangs of brigands, and solving numerous puzzles with a combination of logic, resourcefulness, and stubborn, unbending will.

 

     I discovered that there were a total of four books in the series: The Lure of the Basilisk, The Seven Altars of Dûsarra, The Sword of Bheleu, and The Book of Silence, and bought all the others as soon as I could.

 

     The four books confirmed that this guy "Watt-Evans" could really write a darn good story. Each of the other volumes revealed more and more of Garth's world… and the terrible nature of both the King in Yellow and the likely outcome of serving him. But Garth turns out to be more than anyone – even the King in Yellow – realizes, and even the course Fate has laid down for him will be walked as Garth wishes, under his terms.

 

     As with many of my other reviews, I am trying to avoid spoilering the series; it is still well worth reading, as is (at least in my experience) everything Lawrence Watt-Evans has written (I'm currently off-again, on-again making my way through A Young Man Without Magic).

 

The Lords of Dûs series is still probably my favorite by him, though that's undoubtedly at least partially because it was the first story by Lawrence Watt-Evans that I read.

 

     But part of it is Garth himself, the huge, skull-faced, red-eyed, methodical Overman whose simple desire not to be forgotten after his death would transform his entire world.

 

     A salute to Garth, and his more human creator! 

 

 

 

Comments

  1. Groblek (Brian Williams) says:

    I’ll have to look into these – I’m only familiar with his Ethshar books, and quite like them. I do feel a need to confess that I discovered your work via a stripped copy of “Digital Knight” – my friends and I used to raid the recycle bins behind the local Borders. I did later manage to find a copy for sale in the other local bookstore, but kept the stripped one as a lending copy to try and get other people hooked on your books.

    • I’ve always been torn (pardon the pun) on the subject of stripped books. On the one hand, they’re reported as destroyed, and the author is getting nothing for them. On the other, if someone wants the book it seems a terrible waste to be taking a perfectly good book and pulping it again.

      In your case, and in mine, finding a given stripped book led to purchasing other books by the author in question, so that’s good. Whether that’s a COMMON result or not I don’t know.

  2. Another good call – I’ve not read this series in years, but remember being shocked by how different a protagonist Garth turned out to be. Not a conventional Hero, but not an anti-Hero either – a much more believable alien (“as smart as a human, but not a human”) than most writers can manage. I can find the first 3 books on my shelves, but can’t find The Book of Silence (I may have read that as a library copy). Looks like another order going to Amazon (need to buy some of his self-published and small-press books, too).

    Re stripped books – I share your mixed feelings. I have a few stripped copies of mysteries I got from my grandfather – apparently, one of his local bookshops used to send stripped copies to hospitals and nursing homes. I can applaud the motivation, and it seems wasteful to pulp books, but I hate that the authors and publishers don’t get paid. Given the market predominance of online dealers like Amazon, you’d think that we’d be able to eliminate the whole paperbacks-as-periodicals (regarded as unsellable if not sold within 1-2 months) scam. Yes, some booksellers would hate it because they’d have to assume a little more risk (and think about what would sell locally). But unlike a “July” magazine in August, books don’t have a built-in freshness date.

  3. Tom Lamparty says:

    I got hooked when I read the Misenchanted Sword. I’ve read everything from him that I could get my hands on. I’m expecting the Unwelcome Warlock to be under the Christmas Tree, at least it shows bought on my Amazon Wishlist! 😎 You are right also that the first one you read will always be your favorite. I think we have to consider the stripped cover PB books like the Baen free Library, at least for GOOD authors, if they don’t know your work, they don’t know to buy it, once they read one GOOD one they will then buy the rest, If it stunk, then they are warned off! It was a lost sale anyhow, so actually cost you nothing for the free advertising, and can lead to great word of mouth advertising also!

  4. Larry Lennhoff says:

    I always thought that Garth was a little slow on the human scale of intelligence. Watt Evans told me that wasn’t his intention in writing him, though. I’m undoubtedly sensitized by too many years of role playing, but I thought the end point of the quest was obvious from the beginning. I loved one scene from the Sword of Bhelu where a discussion from the society of wizards essentially goes
    “I move we save the world.”
    “Point of order! That’s new business, and we don’t have a quorum.”

    • I don’t see Garth as slow; he didn’t understand human society — which was very different from his — and he was METHODICAL, rather than run on bursts of inspriation. He wasn’t a genius, no; I doubt he was as smart as most of my protagonists, but “smart” wasn’t his schtick. I don’t think he was STUPID, though. He was about average intelligence but used what he had well, and he had the focus to make good use of it.

  5. When will there be the first snippets of “Portal”?

Your comments or questions welcomed!