Swords from the West

Written by Harold Lamb
Review by Cecelia Holland

As a young writer and history buff, I loved Harold Lamb, and this reprinting of the seventeen so-called “Crusader stories” from Adventure Magazine reminded me why. Lamb’s passion was narrative; he wasted little time with dates and facts, going straight for the action of the event. A master of pace, he had a gift also for the quick glimpse of a landscape that throws everything into perspective. And he had a taste for the faraway.

Most of these stories involve Christian knights, adrift in the Middle East after the fall of Jerusalem, who encounter all manner of Central Asians, Mongols, Turks, Tatars, shamans and swordsmen and lissome maidens, Tamurlane, and the great Genghis Khan himself, in deeds of gallantry and courage, treachery and honor. His dialog is sprinkled with “nays” and “methinks” and “she is a piece of my liver,” but he does it with an energy and élan that flavor the exotic settings. Often the stories end with a little twist, foreseeable, but satisfying; the good guy always wins, and evil pays, as evil should.

My favorites of these stories are “Keeper of the Gate,” with its clever shaman and brave and ruthless heroine, and “Making of the Morning Star,” in which a young knight, the Crusade lost, finds his way through a series of tests to the elite warriors of the all-conquering Mongol army. Occasionally, in the longer tales, Lamb’s characters—they are characters, truly, not personalities—become a bewildering jumble of weird names. Nonetheless his imagination, his gifts of plot and action writing, and his passion for worlds and peoples not white, not western and not like us, make the book a delight to read.