The 1970’s were the heyday of the “sword and sorcery” boom that started a decade earlier with the publication of pulp fantasy adventure writer Robert E. Howard’s CONAN stories by Lancer Books. The popularity of Howard’s newly rediscovered (at least to young fantasy readers such as myself at the time) work, coupled with the earlier surge of interest in fantasy spearheaded by the mass market paperback editions of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and THE LORD OF THE RINGS published by Ballantine Books, led to a decade where mass market paperback fantasy books could be found almost anywhere: grocery stores, newsstands, and of course bookstores. The general plots of most of these works included barbarian warriors, decadent civilizations, beautiful priestesses and queens, and stirring battle scenes.
The decade saw a spate of new authors who were grounded in the sword and sorcery tradition as exemplified by Howard and other authors such as Fritz Leiber, C.L. Moore and Henry Kuttner. Among the newer authors who started their careers in this period were Karl Edward Wagner, Charles R. Saunders, and Roland Green. One of the newer authors to emerge in this period was British writer Peter Valentine Timlett, who wrote a trilogy of novels set in the Atlantis of Theosophical literature and legend rather than the Atlantis of Plato’s writings. The first book in the series is The Seedbearers, published in Britain in 1974 and then in America by Signet paperbacks in 1976. The book is still fairly easy to find on the usual used book sites, and has its followers. Several friends who are fans of the genre recommended it to me as an interesting take on the Atlantis myth as well as a stirring adventure. I recently read it to see what my own take would be on the novel.
The Seedbearers opens with a brief preface by the author where he mentions that his novel is based on the Atlantis of “certain Mystery Schools of the present-day Western Esoteric Tradition” which is (of course) different from the Atlantis described by Plato in Timaeus. Just how the two versions differ is not described by Timlett, leaving the reader to search that information out for him or herself. The novel starts out with some gruesome action, as a young girl is raped on a beach by fifty warriors and then has her throat slit. Similar scenes of rape, pillage, and cold-blooded murder continue in the first few pages, all apparently committed by a victorious army led by a General known as Vardek the Terrible. Vardek’s invading army consists of three races or ethnic groups: red-skinned Toltecs (of whom Vardek is the leader), light-skinned Akkadians (sort of a mercenary engineer corps for the Toltecs), and dark-skinned Rmoahals, who are a subservient race to the Toltecs. The Rmoahals are ferocious fighters who don’t mind engaging in cannibalism and necromancy. The mixed army has been sent by the weak King Baralda of the Thousand Isles (of which the “twin islands of Ruta and Daiteya” are apparently the capital and the equivalent of our Atlantis) as a “trade expedition” to the nearby mainland of Amaria, but instead of engaging in commerce, Vardek has simply slaughtered all the Amarians whom his army has come in contact with.
Character name after character name come in a flash in the first couple of chapters, as Timlett makes a point of introducing everyone who will have a part to play in the novel as quickly as possible. At the same time he also makes sure that each character pontificates at length on the various political, religious and personal agendas that each of them espouse, so that the reader will have little doubt as to where everyone stands in the highly-telegraphed-ahead-of-time apocalyptic armageddon coming up later in the novel. I personally found this style to be quite off-putting. Similar-sounding names (Vardek, Baldek, Melachadek, Naradek, Khamaradek) caused confusion. The characters lack complexity. They are either brutal, misogynistic sadists or noble, idealistic warriors in the service of all that is good, working towards a climactic conflict between good and evil. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis pull this off, but I prefer a little more ambiguity in my opposing forces.
I also found Timlett’s prose to be overly dramatic and much too verbose in places. An example comes early in the book: “For a time the people flourished under the ruling principles of the priesthood, but generation followed generation, and the inherent weakness, fed by centuries of inbreeding, caused the breath of evil once more to waft over the land — and the Sacred Clan, the royal family, became weak and ineffective, and the Sun Temple priesthood grew in pride and arrogance.” Overlooking the fact that this is one sentence with at least seven commas, the “breath of evil waft(ing) over the land” just struck me as over the top.
This apparently is some folks’ cup of tea, but I found the book virtually unreadable, forcing myself to stick with it so as to be able to give an honest review. I honestly can’t recommend it to anyone that I normally recommend fantasy to, without at least pointing out my many reservations regarding the novel. If brutal violence with cruel generals and sorcerers is your thing, Karl Edward Wagner did it better and still introduced shades of moral complexity in his character Kane. If necromancy in your fantasy is of interest, then Clark Ashton Smith also did it much better in his Xothique stories. If you’re looking for interesting takes on the Atlantis legend, then I can heartily recommend the works of Robert E. Howard in his Kull, Conan and Skull Face stories, Henry Kuttner in his Elak tales, Larry Niven in his “The Magic Goes Away” series, Manly Wade Wellman’s Kardios and also his Hok stories, along with a host of others, but I failed to find many redeeming qualities in The Seedbearers. I’m pretty sure that I won’t be going out of my way to read the next two novels in the trilogy, but I’ll list them for the sake of completeness: The Power of the Serpent and The Twilight of the Serpent.
I’m afraid a one-star rating is all I can give here.