Friday, July 4, 2008

Black God's Kiss

"He was still staring, as most men stared when they first set eyes upon Jirel of Joiry. She was tall as most men and as savage as the wildest of them, and the fall of Joiry was bitter enough to break her heart as she stood snarling curses up at her tall conqueror. The face above her mail might not have been fair in a woman's head-dress, but in the steel setting of her armor it had a biting, sword-edge beauty as keen as the flash of blades. The red hair was short upon her high defiant head, and the yellow blaze of her eyes held fury as a crucible holds fire."

With these words, C. L. Moore's heroine Jirel of Joiry was introduced to the world in "Black God's Kiss," published in Weird Tales 1934. Once again, Paizo Publishing's Planet Stories line fills a void in pulp fantasy. Collected in this volume are all six of Moore's stories of the medieval French swordswoman, the first female protagonist of note in the annals of sword & sorcery. Despite the impression the cover illustration gives, Jirel is no female Conan and would never be caught dead in armor so ludicrous (she is called a "lobster" by an antagonist who does not realize that it is a woman who nearly bested him in battle).

Jirel is the ruler of a fictitious fiefdom ostensibly in France sometime before the modern era but history is such a minor concern in these stories that they might as well be set in the Hyborian Age. She is thus a leader of man, who cares more about her domain and its people than she does about herself. Like Conan's first appearance in "The Phoenix on the Sword," "Black God's Kiss" features Jirel fighting to reclaim the rulership of Joiry by any means necessary. Though a warrior of no mean skill, it's interesting to note how differently she approaches than problem than did the Cimmerian in a similar situation. That different approach is one of many reasons why Moore's short stories are still worth reading almost 75 years later.

"Black God's Kiss" is unquestionably a classic of pulp fantasy and worth the $12.99 cover price alone. The other five stories in the collection are a mixed bag in my opinion, but each offers something for aficionados of the genre. The sixth story, "Quest of the Starstone," was co-written with Henry Kuttner, Moore's husband, and features a meeting between Jirel and Northwest Smith, making it a rather unusual story and another example of the blurry lines between science fiction and fantasy in those days (The story is also reprinted in the Paizo collection Northwest of Earth, which I discussed earlier). All the stories reveal the considerable talents of Moore, whose characters, even supporting ones, show greater depth than one would expect and whose plots were unusual even when originally published.

Paizo continues to do good work with their Planet Stories line. I have not regretted buying a single one and Black God's Kiss is no exception.

2 comments:

  1. Are you not thinking of the Scarlet Citadel, rather than the Phoenix on the Sword? I haven't read Black God's Kiss, so I may just be misunderstanding the parallel you are drawing, but Conan is at the centre of an assassination plot in the latter, whilst he is betrayed and deposed in the former.

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  2. You are correct. For some reason I always remember "Phoenix on the Sword" as the story in which Conan is captured by an enemy seeking his throne for himself.

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