Apparently, apart from these two books, the vast majority of L’Amour’s novels were set in the American West, and certainly I can see how they relate to classic Westerns. These are decidedly genre fiction, and follow a path laid out more (Last of the Breed) or less (The Walking Drum) explicitly. They seemed like there was going to be a romance as major subplot in each, and while it’s there, in neither does any woman ever REALLY seem to matter to the hero in the long term. To me, anyhow.
In each case the main character has a (geographically) long and dangerous journey to take on his way to a stated goal that even when fulfilled at the end (because this is genre fiction I don’t think it too much of a spoiler to say that they do each succeed) is certainly not presented as the end of the character’s adventures.
This one is where I decided the women didn’t matter as people in this book, and although in many ways the other is quite different, it ‘proved’ the point. Among his many adventures and accomplishments, Mathurin Kerbouchard falls desperately in love, rescues the maiden (usually), at the risk of his own life at least once, and then circumstances separate them and he heads off to the next place where he he finds another young woman with whom to do it all again.
I suppose I was just very frustrated by this book, because Mathurin goes through all sorts of fantastic adventures, picking up or displaying all sorts of implausible skills along the way specifically with the goal (beyond keeping himself alive) of saving his father, and then when he does, at great risk obviously, and after many years of separation, they basically just say, “Hi there, nice to see you again. We should catch up sometime,” and ride off in separate directions. Nothing ever has any real importance. (And no, barring a complete change in personality I don’t really believe Mathurin has actually fallen in love forever by the end.)
At least in this one Joe Mack only has one semi-romance, but then he does only meet one young woman on his journey across Siberia. There is in general a greater attempt at plausibility in this volume, but the protagonist is still a mystical superman from an ancient race. (Kerbouchard was the descendent of Celtic druids who had somehow passed down all their knowledge to him despite having been wiped out in Roman times, whereas Major Joseph Makatozi is Sioux, and of course has all the possible skills of the greatest Sioux hunters, trackers and warriors ever, as well as those of a specialist US Air Force experimental pilot.)
I suppose I’m just not a genre fiction reader – too much predictability is annoying, and while some of my favourite books have Renaissance men as heroes (Francis Crawford of Lymond and the later Niccolo in Dorothy Dunnett’s two major series, and Jamie Fraser in Diana Gabaldon‘s), they do have to have real flaws and weaknesses, with the ability to build emotional relationships and go through both the real highs and lows involved, for me to actually care about the characters. They have to be individuals, not automata.