The Lure of the Basilisk by Lawrence Watt-Evans is the first book in The Lords of Dûs series. It was first published in 1980 – the copy I read is the 1987 edition. The cover art was done by Darrell K. Sweet.
There is actually quite a lot that is enjoyable about this book. There are a few minor issues, but it was really nice to read a decent fantasy novel that did not involve elves, was under 10,000,000 pages, and did not describe every blade of grass in the country. There were a few typos in my edition, which honestly should have been corrected by this printing – nothing major, just “It” instead of “I” and “faithly” instead of “faintly.”
The story begins in a cave with a warrior type character speaking to creepy Wise Women. The character is imploring the women for information on how to become famous – in essence, for his name to “live forever.” I did not really take a good attitude toward this character at this point because it seems arrogant and obnoxious and I really felt this was going to demonstrate the standard story of how glory-seeking ruins a warrior. Honestly, his request seems rather absurd, but I decided that I did not have to agree with the desire of the character in order to read the book.
This character is Garth. He’s an overman – a race of human-like creatures who live in Ordunin – a northern peninsula. The whole novel focuses on Garth and his quest. We next meet him in Skelleth, a rundown barony where he meets the Forgotten King in a tavern/inn. This is where the Wise Women told him to begin his quest – he should speak to the Forgotten King and obey him. Garth is not exactly welcome in Skelleth. Nevertheless, the Forgotten King is a mysterious old man who hangs out in the tavern. The Forgotten King tells Garth that he will help Garth attain glorious fame, but first he has a “trial” quest for Garth. Garth is to travel to Mormoreth and capture the basilisk that dwells in the crypts there.
The cover depicts the scene where Garth arrives outside of Mormoreth on his warbeast (Koros) and is demanding entrance from the ruler of Mormoreth: Shang. The warbeast is, like the overmen, a genetically bred animal that is like a panther. It’s trained to follow basic commands, although it did not even have a name for half of the book. The relationship between Garth and Koros is actually kind of unique – Garth views the animal in terms of utility and pragmatic ways. I am used to reading books where there is this overbuilt bond between characters and their animals.
In fact, much of the goodness of the novel is because Garth is actually a fairly unique character. He shrugs a bit too much. But he’s nearly seven feet tall, strong as an ox, a skilled warrior, and very durable. He also doesn’t make the trope-mistakes of most fantasy characters. It was actually interesting and fun to follow Garth through the castles, crypts, and city streets on his quest. Also, though a fierce fighter, he usually chooses not to give in to bloodshed and he tends toward more honorable actions – even though he confesses many times that he doesn’t quite understand the traditional emotions, values, and actions of humans.
The ending ties a lot together, which makes the novel feel complete. However, there are a few things that are left open-ended so that the series can continue to the next book. I enjoyed this book, the writing style is so fluid and comfortable that I was able to read it in about a day and a half. I admit that four stars is probably a bit of a gift, but I did really enjoy every chapter.