[originally posted here at Castalia House]
[Incidentally, Cirsova Publishing’s trade paperback of The Enchantress of Venus is out today.]
The Enchantress of Venus by Leigh Brackett appeared as the featured cover story in the Fall 1949 issue of Planet Stories. This novella is the second (chronologically the 3rd) book in the original Eric John Stark Trilogy. While Stark is pretty badass, I’d only peg him as 4th level. Also of note, this may be the first Brackett story I’ve read without a highly erotic scene of strangulation!
I’d planned to talk a bit more about plot of The Enchantress of Venus, but unlike so many of the stories featured in Short Reviews, this one is readily available online and for free as a work in the public domain, so instead I’ll focus mainly on the Enchantress herself.
Eric John Stark has returned to Venus in search of his friend Helvi, who has gone missing while searching for his brother. Sensing that the pirates he’d been sailing the Red Seas of Venus with are going to pull a fast one on him and sell him into slavery, Stark dives into the thick red mists. What ensues is a compelling drama about the last of a decadent and inbred family, the Lhari, who rules over the pirate port and uses the labor of captive to excavate the ruins of a lost reptilian race at the bottom of the bay, where the secrets of an ancient life-shaping weapon supposedly rests.
Enchantress of Venus is a slow burn compared to some of Brackett’s other stories, but the atmosphere she creates is as thick as the gaseous seas. The Lhari, particularly Varra, the titular villainess, are delicious in their cruelty, not just to those they oppress, but to each other. While Ywain’s cruelty in Sword of Rhiannon stems from striving to be more like a man, the son her father didn’t have but needed to hold onto the empire, Varra’s cruelty comes from a place that is utterly feminine and biologically needy – the Lhari are dying out in no small part because they are horribly in-bred, as they look down on the other races and will not mix with them; Varra knows that if she’s to have any future as a ruler, it will not be as her cousin’s bride.