Between 1975 and 1976, John Cleve wrote four books in “The Crusader” series, about a young man from Cyprus who saves Richard the Lionheart’s life and then accompanies the great king on his crusade to the Holy Land. Guy “Kingsaver” becomes a great hero of the crusades, admired or feared by men, and desired by every woman he meets. The four books are: I: The Accursed Tower, II. The Passionate Princess, III. Julanar the Lioness, and IV. My Lady Queen. In 1986, Cleve apparently returned to this series for one more book, V. Saladin’s Spy. I’ve read the first four but not the last.
John Cleve is actually a pseudonym for andrew j. offutt, who also wrote fantasy fiction under his own name, most famously a number of pastiches of Robert E. Howard’s Conan and Cormac Mac Art characters. Offutt did his own original Sword & Sorcery fantasy series as well, and branched out into Sword & Planet fiction with such books as Messenger of Zhuvastou and Chieftain of Andor. Offutt also edited a highly acclaimed, and deservedly so, series of Sword & Sorcery anthologies called the Swords Against Darkness series. That series was my introduction to offutt, and when I first started fooling around with writing it was my dream to one day have a story in it. The series ended before I ever had a chance to submit anything.
Around the same time as offutt was editing Swords Against Darkness, I began reading his Howard pastiches, particularly his Conan ones, and although they were somewhat workmanlike I enjoyed them well enough to seek out more of his fantasy stuff. I have generally enjoyed the ones I’ve read so far, and still have a number to go.
I didn’t discover that offutt was also John Cleve until after I started reading the first two “Crusader” books. I then tried one of his “Spaceways” books, which was an adult SF series that he wrote in the 1980s. I liked the first Crusader book all right but really disliked the Spaceways book and never read another. It wasn’t until recently, when I stumbled upon a piece written by offutt’s son, that I found out that offutt wrote more books as Cleve than he did under his own name, and that most of his output was “adult” fiction, which I believe we can simply refer to here as pornography. Apparently, offutt considered Cleve a kind of alter ego, and spoke as if some of the other pseudonyms he used for pornography were alternate names for Cleve rather than offutt. If you are interested in learning more about that aspect of this writer, the link to his son’s post is here.
But what about the Crusader books, which is the major consideration for this post. Well, the first book I bought in this series was an omnibus of the first two volumes, and I thought it was historical fiction set in the Crusades, a time period that I'd often read and enjoyed stories about. The first book, The Accursed Tower, had quite a lot of graphic sex in it, but also a lot of historical adventure that I thought was decently done. Since the second book was part of the omnibus, I read it immediately after the first. This was The Passionate Princess, and it had more sex and less adventure. I knew there were more in the series but completely lost interest after the second volume and gave the books no further thought.
Fast forward a number of years and I’m in a bookstore and find an omnibus collection of the third and fourth books in the Crusader series, Julanar the Lioness, and My Lady Queen. On impulse, and hoping for a return to a more “adventure” format, I picked them up. The “Lioness” book started out with a bit of adventure, a kidnapping of the series hero, “Guy,” and that led to an interlude with the Julanar character, a warrior woman in command of a band of warrior women, and quite an interesting character. Although this was promising, the book never carried through with the promise and instead focused on the sex. The fourth book, My Lady Queen, made only a token effort to create any sense of adventure at all. Sex was clearly its only focus. I pretty much just scanned it.
Here's the thing. The sex in these books is extremely graphic, and it sometimes descends into brutality. There are rapes, sexual torture, and even an event where a villain strangles a women to death while having sex with her. Such scenes were highly distasteful and too common, and would lead me to recommend against anyone reading these books. However, such scenes did not, at least, make up the bulk of the sexual content, which most often involved the hero, Guy, showing off his incredible prowess as a lover with a wide variety of willing women, most of them noble born. Strangely, given the clearly pornographic intent of these works, almost none of the abundant sexual activity seemed at all exciting to me.
So why did I keep reading these books, particularly the last two? Well, I found many of the non-brutal sexual descriptions to be absolutely hilarious. I frequently read some of the more extreme examples of pornographic prose to my wife, and we had quite a good time laughing at them. The descriptions are so over the top and so egregiously graphic that they boggle the mind. Cleve employs every possible term that you can imagine for the sexual organs, and many of these sentences are also long and convoluted. Imagine William Faulkner writing the most turgid pornography possible and you have a glimpse of Cleve’s literary style. Since I consider this blog to be no more than “R” rated, I’m not going to quote the most extreme examples. But let me give you a taste of some fun phrasing from the Crusader series. This stuff is still pretty graphic in some cases so readers beware!
1. "He poled it to her, good."
2. “‘Ahhh’ she breathed, staring like a serpent-fascinated bird at the snake she had uncovered, still limber and sinuous looking, emerging lazily from the bushy shelter of his loins.”
3. "He stuck her with it in one good swift lurch, and in an instant her excited and welcoming cleft had taken it all, all the way to his hairy scrotal pouch."
4. "Inside, she had become a frenzied well of desire in which he submerged his virile meatstaff."
5. “And he slipped it on into her, drilling in and in, straight for her cervix, long and hard and cramming, filling and feeling the extreme constricting heat of her buried passion.”
As if this were not enough, I realized after I sat down to write this blog post that three of the four novels begin with some variation on: “The moon hung round and white as a buxom maiden’s breast over the….” And books I and III are almost identical for the first few pages. So, while I didn't think these books were well written or entertaining as novels, I did get quite a few laughs. Nuff said?