Swords of Mars is the 8th of 11 JOHN CARTER OF MARS books that Edgar Rice Burroughs gave to the world. It first appeared serially in the Blue Book Magazine in six parts, from November 1934 to April 1935, and is one of the best in the series. For the first time since book 3, The Warlord of Mars, Carter himself takes center stage, rather than making a brief cameo appearance, and his return as the lead character is perhaps the best single element of this book.
This time around, Carter goes to the Barsoomian city of Zodanga to put an end to the assassins guild that is thriving there. In the first half of the novel, Carter goes undercover to infiltrate this Murder Inc.-type of organization, and this segment is extremely tense and exciting. In the second half, Carter’s wife, Dejah Thoris, in what to any reader of this series must come as an instance of Dejah vu (sorry…couldn’t resist!), is abducted again, and Carter follows her kidnappers to one of the Martian moons, using one of that planet’s first spaceships. His subsequent adventures on the moon propel the reader into the realm of pure fantasy. Both parts of the novel are as fun as can be, although very much different in tone.
This novel features very few of the inconsistencies — both internal and with other books in the series — that mar every previous CARTER novel. There are some, however. For example, the great Scarlet Tower of Greater Helium is referred to in this book, whereas in previous novels, this tower was referred to as being in Lesser Helium, and besides which, was destroyed in book 5, The Chessmen of Mars.
More of a problem in the current volume are the book’s implausibilities. For example, Carter & company jump out of their spaceship on that Martian moon, without bothering to check on the moon’s breathable air. Fortunately, the air is just fine, thank you, although Burroughs makes nothing of this… surprising, given the pains he had taken in previous books to explain the breathable air on Mars itself. The invisibility-inducing hypnosis that the moon people use against Carter is a bit much to buy, but that’s alright; it’s all in good fun. But Burroughs’ theory that a person who lands on this 7-mile-wide moon would be the same relative size that he would be on Mars — in other words, that he would shrink in proportion to the planetoid’s mass; his so-called “compensatory adjustment of masses” — is, as Carter puts it, “preposterous,” though, as it turns out, such is the case in the book. Like I said, it’s all in good fun. And this book IS as fun as they get.
Oh… one other nice touch. As pointed out in the ERB List, a fine Burroughs Website, if you take the first letter of each first word of each chapter in this book, you will find a secret message that Burroughs incorporated for his new bride. A nice touch.