Clean tight bright copy Except for a slight crease in spine looks barely read
I must confess, I first bought a copy of of Janet Morris' High Couch of Silistra because of its famous Boris Vallejo cover illustration. I collect Vallejo's stuff, having all but six of John Norman's Gor series, many of which Vallejo also illustrated.
Amazing how a well-done cover can betray a book's content! John Norman's Gor series is set on a barbarian world in space, Earth's mythical opposite. Its culture is shot through with male dominance and female bondage, as well as with Norman's extensive philosophy on this subject. Now Morris brings to the fore her work as a fascinating female writer (and musician!) with which to compare Norman's views. I read this book that I might answer the question, "Is there something to Norman's view, or is his vision just a perverse (though intriguing) male fantasy?"
Well, Morris' world suggests that women also think in the terms that Norman has popularized: male dominance releasing female desire and sexuality through bondage. The planet Silistra, though not without technology, has rejected technology to remain barbarian. At the top of its social order are the Well-Keepresses, a caste of highly intuitive, telepathic prostitutes (like ancient pagan fertility priestesses). Their counterparts are males: the Liaisons--men from other planets (outworlders) who manage the trade between Silistra and the other planets of the galaxy.
All the high-born of Silistra are bound by chalds--chains symbolizing their obligations and responsibilities. Besides the Keepresses & the Liaisons, the castes include the Slayers--who stand halfway between Gor's warriors and assassins. Thus, Silistra is a caste society, much like Gor.
Like Gor, too, Silistra is a world where human sensuality is open to the world--indeed, the world itself revolves around sensuality and sexuality. Men are dominant, and women, though strong and capable of fighting alongside men, are at their mercy. Strong, violent men rape women into submission, chain them, whip them and even enjoy pushing them into Lesbian sex.
Thus Silistran sexuality is confused in a way that it is not on Gor. On Silistra, Lesbianism, homosexuality, bisexuality and voyeurism play prominent roles in the narrative.
Yet Ms. Morris does not let these twists on nature interfere with her overpoweringly masculine heroes, nor with her incomparably sensual heroine.
Like John Norman's Gor, Ms. Morris' Silistran tale comes replete with barbaric tongues, behind which one imagines no little research must stand. In total effect she is able to create an entirely believable world, barbarian, exotic, touched with science fiction, yet not tied to the modern world.
All these elements combine to produce a flavor of exotic sexuality, barbarian space culture, mythic creatures woven into the epic quest of her heroine, Estri, to find her father. By these complex means, Ms. Morris has made High Couch of Silistra a worthy and exciting read.