Heart of Mars

by Juanita Smith
Series: Barsoom fan fiction
Reviewed date: 2019 Aug 14
105 pages
cover art

Heart of Mars turns the classic Barsoom story on its head. Instead of an Earthman transported to Barsoom, demonstrating his prowess with the sword, winning respect as a fighting man, rescuing the princess and winning her love, we get the opposite: a woman is transported to Barsoom, gets kidnapped, waits patiently, is rescued by a hero, and rewards that hero with her love. Our protagonist--I say protagonist because she's a damsel in distress, not a hero--does effectively nothing but moon for her chieftain.

It's certainly a different twist on the Barsoomian tale. Is it supposed to make me rethink the classic stories? If so, I suppose it's succeeded. But there's a reason the classic stories are tales of the hero: it's more exciting. I prefer the heroic tales. This didn't quite do it for me. I believe Juanita Smith has written an intriguing book, but it's not the book for me.

The author does not try to mimic Edgar Rice Burroughs's style, which is fine. This is a different sort of story and requires a different tone. Fittingly for a story focused on the damsel in distress, the prose is filled with thoughts of love, delight and wonder. But although I can concede the need for a change in tone, some things were rather a lot different then the way Burroughs did them.

For example, it's full of breathless exclamations of incredulity that remind me more of middle-school girls than of damsels in a heroic romance of Barsoom:

We had a memorable time ... eating, talking and laughing. My new Martian friends were incredible treasures. In a million years I could never have dreampt any of this could possibly happen. I was on Mars, sitting across the table from John Carter and Dejah Thoris!

And there's the way love and friendship is conveyed:

Kar Sala and I gave each other a hug. "I thank you for being in my life," she said.

"I thank you for being in my life. Hmm. Here's how Burroughs did it in A Fighting Man of Mars.

"You shall stand behind me, Tavia," I told her. "While my hand can hold a sword, you will need no other defense."

"A long time ago, after we first met," she said, "you told me that we should be comrades in arms. That means that we fight together, shoulder to shoulder, or back to back. I hold you to your word, Tan Hadron of Hastor."

I smiled, and, though I felt that I could fight better alone than with a woman at my side, I admired her courage. "Very well," I said; "fight at my right, for thus you will be between two swords."


"Shoulder to shoulder until the end," she said.

"Shoulder to shoulder until the end." I like that. But I suppose it's not fair to compare anyone to Edgar Rice Burroughs. I know I certainly could not write like him. And you know, there are eleven ERB books about Barsoom, and not one of them is told from the point of view of the love interest. I'm glad Juanita Smith has rectified that error, even if I do prefer the Burroughs originals.

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