The Drums Of Chaos
Richard L. Tierney
Mythos Books (440 pages, $45, Sept 2008)
Reviewed by Howie Bentley
Simon of Gitta, Richard L. Tierney’s famous escaped gladiator turned student of the occult, has returned to the Holy Land to take revenge on the Roman officials who killed his parents and sold him into slavery. The Drums of Chaos shows Simon at his most savage as he slays his foes and writes messages on the wall in their blood. Simon is a hell hound on his enemies’ trail, but his plans start being disrupted as apocalyptic supernatural events unfold and cross his path. It seems that there are a handful of different factions of sorcerers, all with their own agendas; not excluding Jesus Christ, the son of Yahweh Zava’ot (A.K.A. Yog-Sothoth).
Although this is a Sword & Sorcery novel in the grand Howardian tradition, it is just as much about the events surrounding the crucifixion of Jesus Christ as it is about Simon’s adventures in the Holy Land. Imagine the Christ Passion viewed through the eyes of H.P. Lovecraft and you start to get an idea where this is going. Some may scoff at this portrayal of biblical events but I think, looking at it objectively, you have to admit that Tierney’s account of the crucifixion is just as plausible as the stories you hear in church, and a hell of a lot more interesting – as I often found myself on the edge of my seat while reading Drums, as opposed to slumped down in my seat asleep. This might well be considered the most blasphemous yarn of the whole literary body termed “the Mythos,” and considering the nature of the field, that’s saying something.
Drums alludes to Lovecraft’s “The Dunwich Horror” in a number of ways. One being the goatish physical features of Jesus Christ, as they bear a strong resemblance to Wilbur Whateley. Another being the virgin Mary, an albino woman who lost her mind when she came into contact with Yog-Sothoth and bore his sons, just like Lavinia Whateley. Though there are several references to Lovecraft, this is not by any means merely a Lovecraft pastiche.
While Simon of Gitta has probably enjoyed a broader audience due to the accessibility of his tales (at one time readily available in the popular paperback anthology series Swords Against Darkness, as well as the Chaosium collection of Simon tales, The Scroll of Thoth), Tierney brings in a character mostly known to die-hard Tierney fans: John Taggart, a misanthropic time-traveler who works with the Lovecraftian Old Ones. So the novel is a sort of tie-in that brings together two of Tierney’s heroes and introduces yet another element into the Howardian Sword & Sorcery and Lovecraft mythos mix Science Fiction.
Sounds pretty crazy by now? It works. What you have here is dark fantasy on such a grand scale that I got the same feeling as when I watched the Star Wars movies as a youngster.
The kind of historical research that goes into writing a novel like this is astounding. It isn’t something an author just does over the course of a year, or even a few years. Tierney’s knowledge of ancient Rome and biblical events is encompassing. It is as if he literally picks you up and drops you into that world, 2000- plus- years ago. He also adds a nice cosmic touch by delving into Gnosticism with the mysteries of the Goddess, Sophia.
Tierney is not only a well-known prose writer in the genre but a respected poet to aficionados of Sword and Sorcery. Like Robert E. Howard, this spills over into his prose writing as he writes with a very fluid poetic style, and he is at his best here.
If you are into Robert E. Howard’s heroic slashing and slaying, the Lovecraft mythos, or just a damned fine dark fantasy yarn spun by a master story-teller, I urge you to pick this up.
A slightly different version of this review originally appeared in Black Gate Magazine #14
Howie Bentley is an international recording artist, and the lyricist/songwriter/guitarist for the heavy metal bands Cauldron Born and Briton Rites. Howie is also the owner of Echoes Of Crom Records–an independent record label specializing in heavy metal bands with sword & sorcery and Lovecraftian lyrical themes.