Captives of The Flame – Samuel R Delany (1963)
“They fought with worlds as their weapons
THREE AGAINST INFINITY. The Empire of Toromon had finally declared war. The attacks on its planes had been nothing compared to the final insult – the kidnapping of the Crown Prince. The enemy must be dealt with, and when they were, Toromon would be able to get back on its economic feet. But how would the members of this civilization – one of the very few who had survived the great fire – get beyond the deadly radiation barrier, behind which the enemy lay? And assuming they got beyond the barrier, how would they deal with that enemy – the Lord of the Flames – whose very presence was unknown to the people among whom he lived.
SAMUEL R. DELANY considers Captives of the Flame to be the first of a trilogy dealing with the same epoch and characters. It is, however, his second published novel, his first being The Jewels of Aptor, Ace Book F-173, which has received considerable acclaim.
A young man, resident in New York City, Delany is a prolific and talented writer, whose work in poetry and prose have won him many awards. Asked for comment on his literary ambitions, he preferred to quote one of the characters from one of his works:
“I wanted to wield together a prose luminous as twenty sets of headlights flung down a night road; I wanted my words tinged with the green of mercury vapor street lamps seen through a shaling of oak leaves in the park past midnight. I needed phrases that would break open like thunder, or leave a brush as gentle as willow boughs passed in a dark room…. The finest writing is always the finest delineation of surfaces.”
Blurbs and bio from the 1963 F-199 paperback edition
The original trilogy – as published by Ace – was set in the same universe as ‘The Jewels of Aptor’ but was later revised for republication. This is a review of the original publication.
On a post apocalyptic Earth, in a feudal realm, several characters’ fates are entwined.
The realm is bounded by the sea and borders of deadly radiation.
There is Jon who, imprisoned for a minor infraction against the palace, has escaped. Tel is a young refugee from an abusive family who is employed in a complex plot to kidnap the young Prince, Let. Alter is another of the kidnappers who teaches Tel and Let some of her acrobatic tricks. We also have the soldier Tomar, Jon’s sister Clea, the Duchess Petra and Arkor (one of the mutant humans who have become the Forest Guardians).
The ultimate aim of the kidnapping is to have the young prince taken away from the restrictive life of The Palace and trained by the Forest Guardians in the hope that such training will make him a decent king.
Meanwhile the government is preparing to wage war on the land beyond the radiation barrier, an enemy unseen and unknown.
Three of the protagonists, however, are possessed by the minds of extra-terrestrial beings and only together can they resist the true enemy beyond the barrier, the Lord of The Flames.
There is a Dickensian quality to this in which the lives of the pampered rich are contrasted with the lives of the poor. It’s a very romanticised tale, however, avoiding some of the horrors of stark poverty and homelessness.
Although it is not complete Science Fantasy, there are Fantasy conventions creeping in, such as the Feudalistic society, the evil Queen Mother and the concept of Royalty itself with all its trappings.
Where it succeeds is in the characterisations which, sometimes slightly stylised and caricatured, manage to raise the tale to a higher level.
The sequel is ‘The Towers of Toron‘