The Serpent Tower is an impregnable fortress built by an ancient, pre-human race, bristling with terrifying, magical weapons, watched over by unsleeping, sorcerous sentinels. It has never fallen to siege. Now it is the lair of the sinister sorcerer Lord Ilmarec who holds Princess Kathea, rightful heir to the throne of Kharadrea in his lustful clutches. In order to save his own life, Rik must penetrate the ancient secrets of the Tower and rescue the Princess from her uncle. And all the while he is pursued by an undead horror born from the vilest necromancy, created with the sole purpose of killing him before he can come into his birthright by a deadly conspiracy that plans to rule the world.
Yes, it’s that old, old story, rescuing a princess from an evil wizard’s tower. The Serpent Tower holds a funhouse mirror to that particular fairy tale just as the amoral former thief Rik is a twisted reflection of all those innocent young farm-boys with secret god-like powers and hidden destinies that overrun fantasy to this very day.
Of course, since this is a world of sinister realpolitik, there are very practical reasons for Rik to perform his feats of derring-do. Kathea is a claimant to the throne of the kingdom Rik’s Terrarch masters have attacked. Without her as figurehead to lend legitimacy to their invasion, they can expect the locals to turn against them. In addition, the Serpent Tower sits directly astride the major lines of supply of the Terrarch army. Leaving it untaken is strategic suicide. And thus Rik is blackmailed into breaking into the tower on a desperate mission of rescue and assassination by his beautiful, scheming patroness, the Lady Asea.
In the Terrarch Chronicles, everyone has a reason for doing what they do. Everyone has their own motives and I hope they are plausible ones. They are certainly the usual ones in our world: ambition and honour, greed and idealism, love and sex and glory. There are patriots as well as scoundrels; the book’s villain, Lord Ilmarec, claims to be motivated by a desire to see his nation free of outside interference. There is every chance he is speaking the truth too.
In this book, we learn more of the secret history of the Terrarchs. We learn of their hidden conflicts, shadowy factions and the ancient conspiracies that vie for control of their world. In tandem with this, hero Rik uncovers part of his own sinister heritage, including the fact that he is descended from the Shadowblood, a line of genetically engineered assassins created to serve of a long-gone Dark Lord, invisible to magical detection and possessed of strange powers that he can only hope he lives long enough to acquire and master.
We find out that Gaeia was once a battleground for a number of warring Lovecraftian Elder Races caught up in a gigantic cosmic conflict at this cross-roads in time and space. The focus in this book is on the Sathur, the Serpent Men, who built the titular Tower but once again we catch glimpses out of the corner of our eye of the scuttling spider-warriors of the Ultari and the horrific aquatic Quan. The Sathur are a decadent Elder Race, sorcerer-scientists who once ruled huge areas of the world and made war with the other Elder World titans using a magic sufficiently advanced as to be indistinguishable from technology.
The Serpent Men are, of course, descended from the denizens of the age of Atlantis created by Robert E Howard in his classic Kull story The Shadow Kingdom, possibly my favourite of all Howard’s works. They come to this book via the Elder Races of Karl Edward Wagner’s Kane stories, which were a huge influence on me. I have always loved the feel of Wagner’s stories where human civilisation has grown up in the shadow of elder world colossi, and this was my tribute to him. There is also a small nod to Robert E Howard’s The Tower of the Elephant as well, in that Rik has to break into this seemingly impregnable wizard’s fortress in order to rescue Princess Kathea.
As you’ve probably gathered we are in a world closely related to classic sword and sorcery of my youth here. Back in the 70s, there was a dearth of the Tolkien and D&D influenced fantasy so common now. Instead you had realistic stories of thieves and barbarians adventuring in worlds that often owed as much to pulp SF as Norse myth, to H P Lovecraft as much as Howard and Tolkien. The Terrarch Chronicles are my tribute to those stories and the breakneck, breathless thrillers by the likes of Alistair McLean that I consumed on an almost daily basis back then. I am really pleased to finally have this series finally available in English.