For the past few months I've been rereading the entire Barsoom series. Partly it was to prepare myself for the movie and partly to see if my original thoughts on them have changed or stayed the same. In most cases compared to my earlier reviews they have changed-if I redo my ratings Gods of Mars would get the full four stars-but the one book that has benefited the most from this is Swords of Mars, a book that has now turned out to be one of my favorites of the series.
Part of this new thinking might be that reading them in order I realized how much I missed John Carter as the lead. While he appeared in the other books, he was mostly in bit parts but Swords puts him front and center which I really enjoyed. It was also fun to rediscover the "I Still Live" version of Carter after Andrew Stanton's mopey version. I know some people's defense of Stanton's treatment was that he was attempting to flesh out and make John Carter a more three dimensional character. Now I'm all for that but Stanton's solution-the dead wife and kid, the cynical war veteran who cares nothing for Dejah Thoris for most of the movie, just his cave of gold-got tiring about an hour in and I was suddenly wanting Burroughs' John Carter. In Swords we get that version in spades.
I also thought the character of Zanda added an interesting dimension to the story. When she reveals her hatred for John Carter and his role in the death of her parents (for those who don't remember her father died when Zodanga was sacked by the Tharks in A Princess of Mars while her mother took the final trip down the River Iss) it showed that even our hero could be seen as a cause of pain and suffering. Admittedly Burroughs doesn't go to far with this and by the end Zanda seems content to forget her vow to kill John Carter-especially after meeting Jat Or-but it still is an interesting twist for what is essentially a pulp sci-fi tale.
Now I'm not saying Swords of Mars isn't without it's problems. Fal Sivas is a poor man's Ras Thavas and once we reach Thuria Burroughs doesn't do as much with the characters. Ul Vas is the standard evil monarch who gets one look at Dejah Thoris and starts drooling, even though Burroughs also decides to give a female version with Ozara who also starts panting for John Carter. In fact one of the funniest lines in the book is Carter's attempts to understand the female mind: "I confess that I do not understand women. Some of the things that they do, their mental processes, are often inexplicable to me." Yep even the Warlord of Barsoom doesn't have an answer for everything.
So in short I rediscovered a true gem and a fun story. So revamping the original rating: **** out of 4 stars.