Graeme does Comfort Reading: ‘The Mark of the Demons’ (John Jakes)
Just look at that cover :o) We might moan about cover art these days but back in the day, this was all our parents had and they just got on with it. Maybe it's time to stop moaning?
My comfort reading is in danger of becoming a regular feature on this blog; there’s certainly something about Fridays, just recently, where all I’ve been good for reading-wise is picking up old favourites from my childhood. All you can do is go with it and let the reading take care of itself, and it’s always good to stop and take a look back every now and then.
Today’s comfort read features possibly the most derivative barbarian warrior in fantasy fiction; Brak is a shameless Conan rip off (albeit perhaps a little more thoughtful and with a fear of heights) who is bound on a quest to reach the fabled lands of Khurdisan and the riches that lie there. Sounds familiar? That’s because it is and that’s what makes ‘The Mark of the Demons’ (and the other book in the series that I have read) such a comfort read. You don’t really have to think about the plot because you know it already, just go along with the story and watch Brak conquer all before him... Well, eventually, after he’s taken one too many knocks to the head and someone else has had to rescue him. Brak is derivative then but there’s just enough of his innate ability to cock up going on to keep things interesting (even though you know it will all turn out ok in the end). I’m going to shut up for a sec though and give you some blurb…
We go to the dark. We ride to the awful dark. A stranger leads us, a savage man. His presence brings the evil down!" The soothsayer's grim words chilled the hearts of the travellers. Even the iron nerves of Brak the Barbarian twanged with foreboding. For in the traders' caravan as it crossed the wasteland of Logol he was the savage, the stranger. Though his strength and swordsmanship might protect the caravan from attacks by brigands or wild beasts, even from the ruby-eyed warriors of Quran, he was as helpless as any against the menace of supernatural powers. And as first one, then another of the travellers fell prey to the horror that stalked them, Brak knew that he must find a weapon more powerful than his sword if he too was not to be discovered drained of blood and bones, a dry husk bearing the three black marks, the triangular Mark of the Demons.
A lot of my childhood genre reading came out of markets and old second hand bookshops that I used to hang out in while on holiday; it was a mixed bag in terms of quality but at 50p a book (or something like that) I never complained, just carried on reading. ‘Brak the Barbarian’ and ‘The Mark of the Demons’ were first read while holidaying in Norfolk and I’ve been revisiting them ever since. ‘The Mark of the Demons’ in particular is worth a quick read if you ever come across it. Yes, Brak can come across as hapless and the outcome of the story is never really in doubt but there’s also a rich vein of horror running through the story that is worth the price of entry (which may well be only a penny if you get the book on Amazon but you know what I mean).
Unlike his more illustrious counterpart, Brak scares easily and I mean very easily… Brak is a barbarian who really can’t get his head around the fact that dark gods and their minions are very much a part of his world; they scare him and this fear rubs off onto the reader. This is especially the case when you the true nature of the evil stalking the caravan becomes apparent; Jakes really strikes that discordant note you get when pure evil and great beauty inhabit the same body and this works to great effect, especially when that evil starts singing (seriously, a very powerful moment in the book)
‘The Mark of the Demons’ will always be a comfort read for me. Derivative enough not to be too taxing, bloody and scary enough to be gripping; it also takes place in a world well drawn enough to get lost in very easily. I don’t know if Brak ever found Khurdisan in the end (I’d guess that he didn’t, given how clueless he can be sometimes); I hope he did.