In the court of the Black Pope, Arak has found Valda and Pope Hadrian still alive and being held a prisoner. As there seems to be no escape, Arak suggests a duel to the death with his companions’ lives as the prize. The Black Pope agrees but it will be three trials instead of one to which Arak agrees, not knowing what it is he has gotten himself into. Written by Roy Thomas and Mike W. Barr, they once again paint a horrific portrait of a people corrupted by time and by the darkness that surrounds them. Ernie Colon and Bob Smith do a great job of making that portrait visible on the page for the reader, the tournament that takes place fast and ferocious and as one can imagine, quite frightening. Arak, of course, is no slouch and he gives as good as he gets. When it finally comes to the final test, he has the crowd on his side and the fight is made a fair one, enough so that he comes out on top and able to escape with a little help from one of the kidnapped women, all of whom are being used for breeding purposes. For the moment, they make a clean getaway, but those who live below are still there and whether they make a return at some point in the future remains to be seen. While completely unexpected but a nice surprise anyways, The Viking Prince by Robert Kanigher and Jan Duursema appears in a back-up tale. When it begins, it finds Prince Jon without an arm and salvation appears in the form of the witch Gorra who holds the severed limb. As Jon enters a stupor and Gorra is about to sew the arm back on, Jon thinks back on the events which led to this moment, of his twin sister Ailsa to whom he was closest and the suitors she had knocking at her door. Readers find that one man named Krogg the Red has designs upon her and as his men try to assassinate Prince Jon in his bed, Krogg makes a clean break for it, kidnapping Ailsa and absconding with her aboard his ship. It leaves off on a cliff-hanger with Jon facing a sea monster and the promise of more action to come as only Kanigher is able to weave. Both stories in this book were excellent reads and it is nice to see The Viking Prince appear despite it not being a book with his name on the cover.
4 out of 5