In this 1933 sequel to Pirates of Venus Burroughs continues the adventures of Carson Napier as he tries to win the love of the beautiful Duare, but in reality this book is a travelogue through various political ideologies. The last book ended with Napier being captured by the Thorists (not very thinly veiled communists) while Duare was presumably being taken back to Napier’s ship to safety by one of the birdmen of Amtor (native word for Venus), but alas that was not to be.
Escaping from the jaws of death is what heroes of Burroughs’ books do best, and when villains insist on elaborate ways to kill our hero it’s even easier for them. Moosko, the Ongyna who really hates Napier and wants him very, very dead agrees to put Napier in the “Room of the Seven Doors” instead of just shooting him in the face. This Thorist death penalty is a combination of physical and psychological torture, the victim is placed in this room with six doors each of which leads to a gruesome death but with one unknown door leading to freedom. In the hub of this chamber you can wait and wait and wait but all you have to survive on is seven meals which of course all but one are poisoned as well as drinks with the same death ratio. In the center of the room is a noose if you wish to take the easy way out. Napier basically chooses door number eight which is a maintenance hatch he discovers in the ceiling when he climbs the noose to escape a giant snake. Cheating death is a heroes bread and butter.
The other key factor in a Burroughs hero is being incredibly lucky. Shortly after escaping the room of death he hears a woman screaming from a nearby room and when he investigates he discovers the princess Duare in the clutches of the vile Mookso. Note: There is a lot of attempted rape in books by Edgar Rice Burroughs but either the villain is instantly interrupted or for some reason holds off until the hero can arrive in time to thwart him.
Upon escaping the Thorist city Napier and Duare quickly realize they are lost and have no idea how to make it to the coast where they’d hoped to find his ship. It’s while hiking through colourful and dangerous forest the Napier brings up the subject of love. At the end of the last book just as the enemies were closing in, and Duare was being whisked off by the angan birdman, she had proclaimed her love for him, but now she is back to “I cannot love you, it is forbidden.” This seriously confuses poor Napier and puts a bit of a damper on things. So the unhappy couple continue to trudge through the jungles having encounters with ferocious animals and even scarier cannibals.
Two key encounters make this a really good science fiction/fantasy novel; first is when Napier and Duare encounter the villainous Skor of the country of Nobool (The Hot Country) who first off presents himself as a friend but he quickly reveals his less than honorable designs on Duare, this is not unusual as pretty much everyone on this planet has the hots for Duare, but what makes Skor stand out is that he is the ruler of an undead population. That’s right folks, zombies! Somehow Skor has cracked the secrets of life and death but hasn’t quite got it perfected, he can resurrect the dead but they are dull, emotionless creatures that are mind controlled to do their master’s bidding. Think Republicans only with slightly less good hygiene.
It’s while imprisoned in the tower of Skor’s castle that Napier encounters the book’s other main character; the adorable Nalte. She is imprisoned in the room above Napier and she informs our hero that Duare had managed to escape and that Skor and his undead warriors went out looking for her. This makes it an ideal time for an escape attempt. The two are successful and then proceed to search for Duare, though after witnessing Napier’s strength, intelligence and bravery it becomes clear that Nalte wouldn’t be too upset if they never found Napier’s “True Love.”
While floating down a big river Napier and Nalte pass the drab and ruined looking zombie capital of Nobool, but on the other bank is a bright and shining city. This leads to the second key encounter in the book and that is Havatoo, the city of science. Napier and Nalte actually decide to slip past both of these cities, not a bad idea as no one on this planet seems all that great with strangers, but then while trying to make camp they are attacked by a group of animal men and our saved by soldiers from Havatoo. The leader of their rescuers brings them into Havatoo and treats them quite courteously but it’s clear they have no choice in the matter.
The white city of Havatoo is Hitler’s wet dream; they are all about science and the purity of their race. The city is the most technologically advanced that Napier has ever seen, they even have cars and science academies. On the downside if you are not genetically perfect you are put to death. Napier and Nalte are put through physical and psychological testing to determine if the can stay in the city, Nalte passes but Carson Napier is sadly told that he is to be put to death because of defects in his genes. He laughs at the fact that he’s travelled millions of miles through space only to be killed because of how his ancestors bred. This revelation that there is something beyond the cloud cover of Amtar intrigues the scientists of Havatoo and so Carson is allowed to live and teach astronomy at the university. His time is well spent and his life and Nalte’s is quite pleasant. When he mentions he’d like to build an airplane to search for Duare they all become interested in aeronautics and get behind the project. Things finally start looking up for Carson Napier.
Will he find Duare and if so will she pass the genetics test and be allowed to stay or will she be sentenced to death? What of the sweet Nalte and her crush on Napier? What of the zombie creating Skor, what threat does he hold for our little band? All these questions are answered in this riveting and fun installment of Carson Napier’s adventures on the cloud shrouded planet Venus.