To paraphrase Mario Bros “Thank you John Carter! But our Princess is in another castle!” That line pretty much sums up the plot for this final installment in the opening trilogy of the Barsoom series. Our hero runs from one pole of Mars to the next trying to recover his stolen princess, all while carving a path of death and destruction before him, but with his princess constantly just out of his reach. First published in All-Story Magazine as a four-part serial between December 1913 and March 1914 The Warlord of Mars does wrap everything up rather nicely, it just seemed to take forever to get there.
When we had last left John Carter he had overthrown Black Pirates of Barsoom (aka The First Born), who live beneath the Omean Sea, placed his new friend Xodar to the throne as the new Jeddak of the Black Martians, but after exposing their goddess Issus as the vile pretender she was you’d think it would all be smooth sailing, you’d of course be wrong. Prior to Carter tossing Issus to her people, where she was to be torn asunder by the angry mob, she had ordered Dejah Thoris, Thuvia of Ptarth, and the Thern princess Phaidor to be locked in the Temple of the Sun, a room that rotates so slowly that the entrance is only accessible once a year. Worse is the fact that just as the door rotated away John Carter saw the jealous Phaidor lunge at Dejah Thoris with a dagger. Would John Carter have to wait a whole year to find out if his beloved was alive or dead?
While waiting for the door to become accessible again the throne of Helium is offered to Carter, he refuses it because the throne belongs to Tardos Mors, who along with his son Mors Kajak (father of Dejah Thoris) went missing while looking for Carthoris, who if you remember went missing while looking for his mother Dejah Thoris. I’m not saying the powers that be who rule Helium are irresponsible idiots, but they do spent much of their time getting lost or kidnapped. So John Carter sits his son on the throne as temporary Jeddak until his great grandfather can be found, he then returns to Kamtol, the capital city of the First Born, to await the day that will release his wife from the Temple of the Sun. While kicking back and waiting he spots suspicious activity from a First Born named Thurid, the man leaves the city in the middle of the night, not something any honest sane person would do, and because this a man that Carter had previously disgraced he decides to follow him. After a long trek through underground passageways he discovers the man is meeting Matai Shang, the Holy Thern whose religion Carter had exposed as well. Carter overhears Thurid explain to Matai Shang that there is a secret entrance into the Temple of the Sun, and that they can rescue Princess Phaidor, who is Matai Shang’s daughter, and also get their hands on Dejah Thoris, their enemy’s one true love.
Thus begins a long series of events that will constantly put Dejah Thoris just out of John Carter’s reach. The minute our hero thinks he will be reunited with his beloved princess defeat will be snatched from the jaws of victory, over and over again. Cater and his ever faithful hound Woola will track them into Matai Shang’s temple, which will quickly be revealed to be a trap, they will escape and Carter will perform several acts of daring do, but alas he will always be delayed enough to let the villains escape with his bride.
Matai Shang, Thurid and Phaidor will then escape with Dejah Thoris and Thuvia as their prisoners, with John Cater again hot on their heels in a stolen flyer, which will then get shot down into the jungles of the equatorial Land of Kaol. The Jeddak of this land is one Kulan Tith who still follows the old religion propagated by the Therns, but when Matai Shang seeks asylum here he keeps the fact that he has in possession two stolen princesses, and that they are being pursued by a man who has killed thousands for far less valid reasons then stealing his wife. When John Carter arrives, after disguising himself as a blonde Thern, he saves a group of visiting dignitaries from an ambush (saving random people that will turn out to monumentally helpful is kind of his thing), but John Carter has a bit of trouble understanding how disguises work. When Carter is presented to Kulan Tith, and his heroic deeds are described, it doesn’t take Thurid or Matai Shang long to figure out that a Thern who can leap hundreds of yards through the air to lop the heads off his enemies is probably not a Thern. Twice in this book he has a disguise pierced by his trademarked skills that are known across the planet.
So Carter is unmasked but before his death sentence for heresy can be carried out Thuvan Dihn of Ptarth, who is Thuvia’s father and was leading the group that Carter saved, stands up for Carter because he had learned of this Earth man’s heroic deed in saving his daughter’s life. When Carter informs him that Matai Shang is holding both Dejah Thoris and Thuvia prisoner Thuvan Dihn demands there release. Matai Shang of course denies the charges, but Kulan Tith promises their release if it is true. Because it is late Matai Shang does not want to wake up his daughter so he promises to hand over the girls in the morning. Everyone agrees to this. WTF? Why would Cater agree to wait one single second more to free his wife from the clutches of a mortal enemy? Well if he demanded her immediate release the book would be over, and that pretty much sums up the weakness of this novel. The drama surrounding this action packed adventure is contrived beyond belief.
And come morning it is of course discovered that Matai Shang and Thurid had snuck away with the girls in the middle of the night. Gullible thy name is John Carter. We are then treated to Carter and Thuvan Dihn racing off in pursuit where they will eventually cross the icy lands of the north and into the realms of the Yellow Martians, a race that was once a dominant species on the planet but who were chased into the icy wilds by the Green Martians. The Yellow Martians eventually reached the Carrion Caves located in the walls of an icy mountain range, defeated the Green Martians and left the millions of rotting corpses in the cave entrance to what would be their new home. These yellow skinned and black bearded residents of realm of Okar live in hothouse cities that are protected by invaders by a massive pillar that works as a giant magnet that draws any ship within reach to its doom. After a ship has been smashed against this massive device the survivors are quickly enslaved.
Note: John Carter continues to fail at understanding how disguises work as at one point while made up with yellow make-up and a fake beard he spots Dejah Thoris in a garden below where he is locked up. He makes the sign of love to her and his heart is crushed when she snubs him. It takes him forever to realize she turned her back on him because to her it looked like just another lecherous Yellow Martian hitting on her. John Carter may be the greatest warrior on two worlds but he’s not always the brightest.
Will John Cater and Thuvan Dihn finally be able to rescue Dejah Thoris and the beautiful maiden Thuvia? And what of Tardos Mors and Mors Kajak who have been missing for almost two full books now? Can our heroes survive the slavering jaws of the Martian Apts, the six limbed beasts that prowl the arctic wastes? Where is ever faithful Woola and what of Tars Tarkas and Cathoris? Can they launch a rescue in time, and if they do will the Helium fleet be dashed pieces by the giant magnet? All these question and more are answered in the action packed pages of The Warlord of Mars.
Note: As the book is written in first person one may find John Carter’s constant descriptions of his own amazing fighting skills to be a bit immodest, but there is one passage that kind of explains his attitude, “If sometimes I take too great pride in my fighting ability, it must be remembered that fighting is my vocation. If your vocation be shoeing horses, or painting pictures, and you can do one or the other better than your fellows, than you are a fool if you are not proud of your ability. And so I am very proud that on two planets no greater fighter has ever lived than John Carter, Prince of Helium.” Who can argue with that?
Though this book does adequately close the trilogy the repetitive nature of the narrative is a bit tiring, and all the awesome action in the world can’t hide the fact that the basic story boils down to, “Women, what a headache, am I right fellas?” Dejah Thoris is depicted as a woman with spirit, and her love for John Carter is beyond question, but mostly it’s her unparalleled beauty that is her most dominant characteristic in these books as it’s the cause of her constant kidnapping, and the only reason she isn’t constantly being sexually assaulted by her captors every minute of the day is because they’re all too busy fighting amongst themselves about who gets her. That all said there is still a lot of fun to be had with this book, John Carter is still the charismatic action hero we’ve grown to love, it’s just that the previous book was so damn good almost anything was bound to be a let done, and sadly this book is definitely that.