(This is an old review, pre-dating the publication of El Borak & Other Desert Adventures)
Once upon a time, when people studied geography, there was a taste for swashbuckling adventure tales set in remote places. While best known for creating the fantasy world of the Hyborian Age where Conan dwelt, Robert E. Howard created his own fantastic versions of the Arabian Desert and the mountains of Afghanistan.
One of REH’s most popular series characters was Francis X. Gordon, called “El Borak”-The Swift. Arising from an imagined persona young Bob Howard created when he was ten-years old, El Borak took shape on paper as an El Paso gunslinger who has made his life among the unconquered tribes of Afghanistan and the Middle East. Along with The Lost Valley of Iskander and Three-Bladed Doom, Son of the White Wolf brings the El Borak stories together.
There are three stories in this collection and each one is a truly ripping yarn. In “Blood of the Gods” El Borak must rescue his friend, Al Wazir-a politician turned hermit, from a gang of cutthroats who want to steal a treasure Al Wazir is rumored to have. A sheik that has a blood feud with El Borak comes along for the massacre making things a bit unpredictable.
“Country of the Knife” follows Stuart Brent, a gambler who goes to Afghanistan to find El Borak and ends up in the mysterious City of Thieves where the Black Tigers hold sway. Led by a ruthless adventurer, this secret society holds the key to empire in Central Asia, but El Borak is guarding the door.
The title story is the only El Borak tale set in the Arab Revolt in WWI. While Lawrence and the geopolitics of the Great War hover in the background, in true REH style the conflict is personal. A Turkish lieutenant stages a mutiny and decides to found a new, pagan Turkish empire on the ruins of the old, Muslim one. When Lt. Osman kills one of El Borak’s friends, the hero must step in.
Son of the White Wolf is classic swashbuckling adventure in pulp style. You could say it mates Conan to Kipling, but without the sentimentality and devotion to empire that Kipling had. The closest approaches are Talbot Mundy’s Jimgrim and King series. But Mundy’s heroes are team players, they prefer to use verbal power to firepower. El Borak is a flickering blade, roaring guns, and blazing passion.