Books are like meals. Every time we crack open a new volume, we dream that what lies inside is a feast for the senses, a giant well-cooked masterpiece of action, adventure and thought-provoking concepts tat challenge how we view the world, stimulating the mind even as it entertains. And when the final page is turned ,the final word is read, we set the book (or e-reader, or smartphone of book app) down, sated.
But sometimes a body doesn’t want filet mignon or a fine chicken souffle with accompanying wine selection. Sometimes a burger with cheese is what one craves. As it is with food, so it is with books. Sometimes you want a harmless bit of cliched fluff that is many things but is NOT great literature. And Warlord of Hyperborea, by Richard Tongue, is not great literature. It’s pulp to the bone, a walking storm of tropes that anyone with even a small understanding of the fantasy genre will see coming a mile away. Nonetheless, it has this advantage over other genre books lurking in the digital backwaters of Amazon; it is entertaining.
The story is familiar to anyone who had read a Conan the Barbarian or played a session of Dungeons and Dragons. There is a barbarian hero and his trusty dwarf sidekick (who is also the heir to a lost throne, because of course he is…) who raid a wizards tower and make off with his apprentice, who is not only powerful but easy on the eyes (because of course she is…) They set off another quest, pick up a few more companions along the way, dive into the obligatory dungeon crawl before the final big battle…and so on. The plot writes itself because so many have written it beforehand – it’s not a long book, a reader can breeze on through it in about two hours.
What sets this story apart is that the author wisely chooses to embrace the tropes and take them to their furthest degree without a hint of irony. Every cliché is embraced, every stereotype indulged. The barbarian’s thews are mighty, the dwarf is dour and haunted, the thief is twisty and backstabby. The men are strong and hard, the women beautiful and lusty, the villains fully one-dimensional and brought on stage with the intention of dying by the dozen in battles that are bloody and glorious for the heroes. And all of it done without a hint of angst, introspection or subversion.
AS I said, not great literature, and it doesn’t pretend to be anything more than a couple hours diversion. With modern pulp like this, what you see is definitely what you get. Sometimes a cheeseburger or a bag of chips is what a body needs.