C.L. Moore’s collected Jirel of Joiry stories suffer from the same problem as her Northwest Smith stories. Each is spurred by one incandescently brilliant story and one great pulp character—here, Black God’s Kiss and the titular Jirel of Joiry—and feature vividly evocative prose and imagery, but both are stymied by the remaining stories being otherwise brilliant but simply too derivative of the first to form a truly great collection. More than fine, probably, in its original pulp magazine form, but it is very noticeable if you read the stories straight through. Better to savor them. The two collections give me a better appreciation of Robert E. Howard. Moore matches or even exceeds Howard in many ways (and that is very high praise from me), but Howard wrote an incredibly diverse body of stories, even just looking at the stories featuring a particular character.
Black God’s Kiss opens with Jirel defeated, Joiry taken, by the cruel Guillaume. Unwilling to admit defeat, even to the last, Jirel girds herself for war and sneaks down to the bowels of her holdfast to its secret portal to Hell, seeking a weapon against Guillaume. What follows is a terrifying trek through a Boschian hellscape full of terrifying, arresting imagery weirder than anything Bosch could envision. I own the Ace Fantasy edition published in 1982. I absolutely love the Stephen Hickman cover featuring one of my favorite images from Black God’s Kiss—the pale horses. I won’t ruin the end of the story for you if you don’t already know it. The ending has made Black God’s Kiss rightly famous in the right circles.
Jirel is a great character. Her temperament as fiery as her hair. Intense and implacable. I would say she is a great sword and sorcery heroine, but the Jirel stories lean far more toward the weird tale and cosmic horror side of things than sword and sorcery.
As with the Northwest Smith stories, which are surprisingly more weird tale and cosmic horror than space opera/planetary romance, Moore’s great strength here is her vivid, startling imagery and her grand ability to imbue things with a sense of pervading, creepy, otherworldly horror.
Black God’s Shadow is, as the name suggests, a direct sequel to Black God’s Kiss. Jirel Meets Magic suffers a bit in comparison with the Hell of the first two stories, but it is a nonetheless a notable depiction of entering into fairyland. The Dark Land suffers even more from once again taking Jirel to another dimension, but it may be the weirdest of them all, and it has more science fiction than the rest (I’ve noticed Moore likes to sneak small science fiction elements into even her more traditionally fantasy stories). After the first four stories, Hellsgarde is a bit of a breath of fresh air. It is my second favorite story in the collection, perhaps in significant part for that reason. It may be the most terrifying story in the collection, and for different reasons than the rest.
In the end, fewer stories and the strength of Hellsgarde probably propel this collection very slightly past Moore’s Northwest Smith stories.
All five stories were originally published by Weird Tales in the 1930s. Quest of the Starstone, both a collaboration between Moore and her husband Henry Kuttner and a Jirel-Northwest Smith crossover, is not included in my Ace Fantasy volume.
Black God’s Kiss
Black God’s Shadow
Jirel Meets Magic
The Dark Land
4.5 of 5 Stars.
My previous post on “Black God’s Kiss” for Alexandru Constantin’s Pre-Tolkien Fantasy Challenge.
The Little Red Reviewer on “Black God’s Kiss” in a guest post.
Ryan Harvey on Jirel of Joiry at Black Gate.
Anne M. Pillsworth and Ruthanna Emrys on “Black God’s Kiss” at Tor.com’s Lovecraft Reread.
Keith West on “Black God’s Kiss” at Adventures Fantastic.
Skulls in the Stars on “Black God’s Kiss”.
Dial H For Houston on Jirel of Joiry.