Author: Nathan Long
Publisher: Night Shade Books
Here’s my theory about parodies and their appeal: we crave, above anything else, to belong to the secret club that gets the joke. By this, I mean that we, as readers, get a special pleasure just from knowing the oeuvre which the parody makes fun of or references. I admit that I’m part of the vain lot who pride themselves on the books lined up on their bookshelves and that, whenever I encounter a work that parodies one of my favourite childhood stories, I get all tingly inside because, well, I get it.
As a result, when I stumbled at the local library on the first book in the Jane Carver series, Jane Carver of Waar, I quickly found myself raising my index finger in the air, shouting, “Aha! I get this! It’s a parody of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ 1917 classic A Princess of Mars!” Author Nathan Long simply swapped Burroughs’ immortal Virginian captain, John Carter, for a big, tough, red-haired, foulmouthed, no-nonsense, harsh-talking, hard-punching biker chick named Jane Carver. Ironically, she turns out an improvement on the source material.
As much as I loved Burroughs as a kid, I’ve always had a problem with his main characters, which tend toward the generic. John Carter, Tarzan, and Carson of Venus are all carbon copies of each other, with only their location to tell them apart. Jane, by comparison, feels fully fleshed out, and you really get to know her by the end of Jane Carver of Waar. Unlike Burroughs’ interchangeable clones, she doesn’t always know what path to take. She constantly doubts herself, lashes out in anger, hates herself for every mistake, but tries, time and again, to do the right thing. That is the sort of hero about whom I want to read.
Jane Carver of Waar follows Jane as she works out how gravity works on the planet called Waar and puts up with the macho customs of its purple inhabitants. Long delves deep into the details of Burroughs’ John Carter universe, turning it upside down and exploring every angle. On the one hand, we sense the author’s annoyance with the source material’s flowery style as Jane’s narration constantly undercuts the lofty speeches of Waar’s purple men. On the other, we can also perceive a genuine love for Burroughs’ stories. The man did write some exciting adventures.
Simply put, Jane Carver of Waar is a straight up parody: replace John Carter with Jane Carver and Burroughs’ flowery narration with a series of hilarious, foulmouthed reflections, and voilà! Simple right? You’d expect the author to repeat the formula and copy-paste the plot of the second John Carter book, but then you’d be wrong. Using the groundwork in his first novel, Long decides to create something entirely new, addressing, in the midst of an exciting adventure, all the issues a younger audience might find in an oeuvre published over a hundred years ago: the “damsel in distress” trope, slavery, human rights (or in this case purple people rights), etc.
In Jane Carver: Swords of Waar, the aforementioned follow-up to Jane Carver of Waar, we find our heroine stranded on the big rock called Earth. Jane keeps thinking about the planet and purple lover she left behind. With the help of a humming, teleporting crystal, she finally manages to hitch a ride back to Waar, wherever that is, and reunite with her man, Lhan. Unfortunately, the local church declares them outlaws and they spend the rest of the book on the run, narrowly escaping their enemies’ grip, fighting air pirates, and involuntarily changing the status quo of Waar.
Sadly, Night Shade Books, publisher of the two Jane Carver books has been facing major financial difficulties of late, with contractual obligations toward its authors unfulfilled and the possibility of a bankruptcy looming in the horizon. Does this mean there won’t be a third novel set on Waar? I certainly hope that’s not the case because, for all of his derisive humour, Nathan Long created an interesting, original world with vibrant characters and an edgy heroine whom I’d most definitely follow through another adventure.