Warrior of the Altaii
“The plot is unexceptional, but it is an easy, fun enough story to divert the reader for a few hours.”
Over 40 years ago Robert Jordan wrote his first book, Warrior of Altaii that never saw the light of day until the fall of 2019 thanks to the popularity of his Wheel of Time series.
This stand-alone novel features the nomadic warrior leader, Wulfgar, whose people face a time of hardship as the waters of the plains recede. These nomads, barbarian types seen in just about every Robert E. Howard story, are the definition of the noble savage trope.
Wulfgar travels to the city of Lantan where he runs afoul of its rulers, the twin queens, and soon learns of a plot to destroy the Altaii. Thanks to the magic of the Wisdoms (sorceresses) he is saved from all manner of depravity and torture. He is also aided by a mystery woman who turns out to beultimately, not so mysterious; in the end it is his intelligence and sword arm that really saves him.
The world building is simplistic, like many of the Conan books that Jordan has written. The characters tend to be two-dimensional cutouts, a sort of “insert your stereotype here” style of writing, although there are a few that stand out as exceptional. However, this male-centric fantasy, often reminiscent of the John Norman Gor books, might grate on the reader in this #MeToo era. There is a well-written, strong female character in the book, but her role is relatively small, which is a shame. Another shame is that most of the antagonists in the book are women, which probably will not sit well with the female reader.
There is swordplay galore, battles between the noble Altaii and their honorless counterparts, the Morassa, who serve as the opposite side of the nomadic barbarian coin. Sorcery abounds, as well, plenty of it to satisfy fantasy buff, but the magic in this world suffers from a lack of real cohesion; no set of rules to which sorcery can be applied except the women who cast the spell must do so sky-clad (buck naked).
There is strength to the writing, rough around the edges for sure, but Jordan was a talented storyteller and some of the ideas in this book are obviously the seeds of the ones that come full bloom in the Wheel of Time. The plot is unexceptional, but it is an easy, fun enough story to divert the ready for a few hours.
Midway through the book the reader should realize there is an overindulgence of testosterone that is a trademark of a book from the ’70s, and that the cover art should bear the likenesses of a muscle-bound man (scantily clad), sword raised, with a beautiful woman at his feet (also scantily clad).
Given that Jordan’s Wheel of Time series set a new standard for fantasy literature, this makes it more difficult to read his first, very rough book. The genius is there, it just needed more time to develop.