The third and final book in the Eric John Stark sword and planet trilogy.
Publication year: 1976
Page count: 208
Publisher: Ballantine Books
The previous book, the Hounds of Skaith, ended in hopeful tones because a starship captain had agreed to take Stark and his friends to the stars. But the captain, Penkawr-Che, was overcome with greed. He kidnapped Stark and Ashton, and demanded ransoms for the others.
The story begins when the captain tortures Stark for information about a huge treasure trove of artifacts from Skaith’s ancient past. But Stark and his foster father Ashton manage to escape. The starship crews plunder nearby towns and temples while Stark and Ashton try to find another way to contact off-worlders. Meanwhile, the wise woman Gerrith and Stark’s loyal Northhounds are far away. But Gerrith has had a vision: they must reach Stark and Ashton before the duo reaches the sea. If not, Stark will die and Skatih is doomed. So, Gerrith and the few allies Stark have start a dangerous journey towards Stark and Ashton.
We get to see again the places and peoples we saw in the previous books but somewhat changed. Again, Stark gathers allies where he can, even from former enemies. They know that one Wandsman has an off-word communications device and they must try to get it.
We also see briefly how Penkwar-Che’s crew deals with some other familiar characters when Starks isn’t there to witness it. Also, the whole climate on the planet is changing: winters getting longer and harsher, summers shorter. This makes the people more ruthless and desperate.
The book starts with three maps and glossaries of places, peoples, and characters. There’s also enough recapping to maybe start the story here but I recommend reading the previous volumes first.
The Reavers of Skaith has more named female characters than either of the previous books. Some of them are only seen briefly but they all (except one) have life beyond their encounter with Stark. Interestingly enough, Stark’s foster father Simon Ashton often fills the role of a typical female romantic interest: the series starts when the Wandsmen have kidnapped Ashton and Stark comes to the planet to rescue him, and Ashton isn’t a warrior and has to rely on Stark to protect him. Ashton is an accomplished diplomat but rarely has a chance to use his skills on this violent planet.
The Skaith trilogy is a very good sword and planet story with a satisfying ending. Stark is a relentless (and humorless) main character with deep loyalty to people he likes. He doesn’t trust easily and he doesn’t consider himself a civilized man. He also has to rely on his “beast side” to survive, especially with the hounds.
However, there’s a brutality to the story, in the people, the environment, and Stark himself which makes this story feel very different from the light-hearted (if with a high body count) adventures in Barsoom. I wouldn’t want to read books like these all the time and I don’t think anyone would categorize these stories in the children section, as Barsoom books are now (at least here in Finland).