Note: This review is a short version of a more detailed look conducted in a post on my companion site, ChadTalksMovies, titled “My Adventures on Barsoom.” Check it out!
I was unfamiliar with Edgar Rice Burroughs or his character John Carter until the property came to my attention when Disney adapted the character for the big screen in the 2012 film John Carter. From the looks of the trailers, I was pretty darn excited for the film, but I never went and saw it, possibly due to the less-than-stellar reputation it was accruing at the box office, becoming Disney’s biggest flop ever. I gradually lost interest, but when Amazon offered the book John Carter and the Gods of Hollywood, by Michael D. Sellers, for free on my Kindle, I read through it feverishly, fascinated by the history of the film and its source material. Halfway through that book, I decided that I had to give John Carter and the people of Barsoom a chance…and, good gosh, am I glad I did!
A Princess of Mars is the first in an 11-book series about Civil War veteran John Carter, who is suddenly and inexplicably spirited to the planet of Mars, called “Barsoom” by its inhabitants. Carter soon realizes that the lesser gravity on Barsoom allows him to leap great distances and greatly multiplies his strength. However, he is soon captured by Tharks, Martians who have green skin, four arms, stand fifteen feet tall, and are known for being fierce warriors. His strength allows him to climb ranks among the Tharks and befriend Tars Tarkas, one of the Thark chiefs. Soon, an attack on the flying ships of Helium, a city-state populated by Red Martians who look identical to humans except for their red skin, introduces Carter to Dejah Thoris, princess of Helium and the most beautiful woman he has ever laid eyes on. Carter plans an escape with Dejah Thoris in order to return her to her people, but many obstacles stand in their way. Accompanied by Dejah Thoris and an ugly but faithful companion named Woola, John Carter faces friends, foes, and everything in between in his first adventure on Barsoom.
The first thing I noticed about this book while reading is the way Burroughs writes. His sentence structure, choice of words, and descriptive prowess all join together beautifully to form sentences that are almost romantic in their presentation; that is to say, not “lovey-dovey” romantic but expressive and artistic. All of these wonderfully composed sentences build into a story that carries with it the largeness of the world and the larger-than-life qualities of the characters within it. The story is more episodic than plot-based, with each chapter bringing Carter to a new place or introducing him to a new task or character, which makes sense since the story was originally published in monthly serials before being compiled into a book. These vignettes from Carter’s time on Barsoom aren’t disjointed, however, with everything flowing and connecting rather nicely.
There is a lot of appeal in this book, from the desire to be a hero like John Carter to the swashbuckling swordplay to the fantastical descriptions of Barsoom/Mars to the romance between Carter and Dejah Thoris. It’s a novel that transcends genres, with elements of science fantasy, romance, and Westerns all coming into play. A Princess of Mars gave me what is possibly the most fun experience I’ve had while reading in quite a long time, increasing my interest in the following ten sequels, the film (my review), and in Burroughs in general. If you want to have a great time reading, go read this. Now!
Rating: 5 (out of 5)
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