A Princess of Mars — A Review

I really had no intention of reading A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs. I had previously read the first two Tarzan books also by ERB. While I greatly enjoyed the Tarzan books–especially the first one–ERB’s Barsoom series, of which APOM is the first, just didn’t sound all that interesting. But eventually, due to hearty recommendations from the circle of blogs I read, I decided to try it anyway. I was pleasantly surprised.

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The premise of APOM is fairly simple: an ex-confederate soldier, John Carter, wandering through the American Southwest finds himself transported to Mars. He soon finds himself right in the middle of a bloody conflict between multiple, Martian factions. The story is simply good old-fashioned adventure and I definitely enjoyed the story in spite of some fairly big annoyances.

Let’s start with the positives. First, ERB has a fantastic imagination. APOM features green warrior savages, sultry maidens, airship battles, sword-fights, and gun play all on a dying planet. What’s not to like? It’s not anything “literary”, but after spending a college career studying “literary” works, I’m glad it isn’t. The action is constant with appropriate breaks in-between, and ERB’s writing conveys it well.

The characters, for the most part, are adequate. The heroes are heroic and villains villainous; In this day and age, it’s quite refreshing. The current trend of not-so-good good guys and not-so-evil bad guys is really starting to wear out its welcome. The best character by far has to be Tars Tarkas. His story arc actually has some depth to it and possibly the best part of the book. Now, I’ve heard complaints of the fact that the love interest, Dejah Thoris, is far too human-like for a Martian. Apparently this strains credulity with some people. Well the Mass Effect series features an entire alien race capable of sex and reproduction with any species, and I didn’t hear any complaints about that. If anything, Dejah Thoris is a far less egregious example.

Now despite the positives, there are a few annoyances worth mentioning. The biggest is ERB’s reliance, nearly to a fault, on coincidences. There are just way too many blatant coincidences. A few lampshades would have really helped. There’s one where John Carter, after being pursued for many miles by the red faction, just happens to crash land into the middle of a battle by a couple of tribes of the green faction. It just so happens that one of John Carter’s few friends just happens to be involved in this battle.

A second annoyance is the romance. The romance in APOM straddles the line between cringe-worthy and bearable. Granted, ERB seemed to live during a time where love-struck males put their lovers on pedestals higher than skyscrapers, so I won’t hold that against him too much. But still, it’s not exactly fun reading either. John Carter just barely meets Dejah before falling completely in love with her and vows to win her hand in marriage. I’m sorry, that’s just too much for me. Don’t get me wrong, I have no objection to wholesome romance, but this is just… lame. Tarzan and Jane’s romance was better written than John Carter and Dejah Thoris’, so I know ERB has that ability.

One final annoyance is that ERB seems to enjoy starting plot lines out of nowhere and then quickly ending them without developing them enough. The atmosphere-machine-thing toward the end is the biggest example. That plot line could easily have lasted an entire book, but ERB starts and concludes it in a couple pages. As a result, I was far less invested in it than I would have been otherwise.

As I said, these are annoyances. They aren’t exactly huge negatives or problems with the book, just annoyances. However, there are enough that they stand out and prevent me from giving APOM a higher score. That said, APOM is a fun read with plenty of heart, action, and imagination. I enjoyed it for what it was and don’t have any serious complaints beyond the annoyances mentioned above.

3.5 out of 5 stars.

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