Gods of Opar:Tales of Lost Khokarsa by Philip José Farmer and Christopher Paul Carey. Book review

GODS OF OPAR: Tales of Lost Khokarsa by Philip José Farmer and Christopher Paul Carey, Subterranean Press, h/b, $45.00, http://www.subterraneanpress.com/

Reviewed by David Brzeski

This is a huge and beautiful book. I suspect a good number of people who buy it will be doing so, despite the fact that they already have two thirds of it in paperback. For any who don’t, frankly it’s a bargain.

It consists of Philip José Farmer’s two Khokarsa novels– ‘Hadon of Ancient Opar’ and ‘Flight to Opar’– plus, after a 40 year wait, the final book in the trilogy– ‘The Song of Kwasin’– which has been completed with the help of Christopher Paul Carey.

While the main characters, Hadon and Kwasin are Farmer’s own creations, the trilogy is based around characters and places first encountered in the African adventure stories of Edgar Rice Burroughs and H. Rider Haggard. Many will recognise Opar from ERB’s Tarzan novels and the city of Kôr from HRH’s classic Aalan Quatermain novels. However, these books are set in the distant past, millennia before the Alan Quatermain and Tarzan books.

‘Hadon of Ancient Opar’, according to the ‘Chronology of Khokarsa’ in the back of the book, is set circa 10,000 BC. Hadon is one of three athletes from Opar who travels to the city of Kho to compete in a brutal variant on the Olympics to win the position of Queen Awineth’s new king. It’s no spoiler to reveal that he wins, as once the participants reach a certain stage of the games, the only other way out is death. The incumbent king, however, has no intentions of giving up his position and engineers a quest for Hadon to complete before taking up his crown. Hadon has to find a group of wanderers, one of which is reported to be an exiled immortal– Sahhindar. The true identity of Sahhindar will be immediately apparent to pretty much everyone as soon as he is described. Those interested to know exactly how he ended up in the distant past can find out by reading ‘Times Last Gift’, which is one of the Farmer books recently reissued by Titan Books. After two years, Hadon returns with the other wanderers, including the beautiful Lalila, who he is now in love with. Naturally, things go awry and the book ends in a neat cliffhanger.

‘Flight of Opar’ picks up the story where Hadon left off and takes us into a rapidly expanding and bloody civil war, with the supporters of Kho, the Mother Earth Goddess, beset on all sides by the supporters of Resu, the sun God. Lalila, now Hadon’s wife, is pregnant and on hearing the prophecies of the high priestess of Kho, finds that they have to have the child born in the temple in Opar. I realised who this baby was destined to be as soon as I read the prophecy, as would, I imagine, anyone very familiar with Edgar Rice Burroughs’ work. It’s a testament to the power of Farmer’s prose that I still felt a thrill as the baby was named in the very last sentence of the book.

In ‘The Song of Kwasin’, the final book of the trilogy co-written and completed by Christopher Paul Carey, the story takes a divergent path. We leave Hadon and Lalila in Opar and instead follow Kwasin, a secondary character in the first two books. Kwasin is an interesting hero; flawed to say the least. It can be hard at times to decide if he’s a hero, or an arrogant thug. Indeed, one of the strengths of the entire series is that there are no clearly delineated good and evil sides. Many of the characters united in fighting the mad king Minruth actively despise each other. Farmer and Carey tell a realistically complex tale of a religious war in which whichever side ultimately wins, countless people lose and their world is left devastated. While the trilogy is brought to a satisfying conclusion, we are left with many questions and much scope for future books. We meet the ancestor & namesake of the daughter of Hadon in a book ERB published in 1913. There are some 12,000 years of the history of Opar to be filled in. What of Sahhindar, the time traveller? He was around for some 2000 years, before the events of ‘Hadon of Ancient Opar’, but when did he finally die, if indeed he did? Was it before he was born some 10,000 years later? Hopefully some of these stories will follow, with the kind permission of Farmer’s Estate.

In the meantime, I have several books by Edgar Rice Burroughs and H. Rider Haggard I want to reread. A fact which I know would please Philip José Farmer no end.