Thirty Pieces of Silver Review
Thirty Pieces of Silver—A review by Gabor Lux
This collection of exotic short stories, originally published in Oriental Stories between 1930 and 1934, gives us the works of a less-known author largely forgotten until recent times. Gladys G. Trenery, who wrote her stories under a gender-neutral pseudonym, can be considered the predecessor of Leigh Brackett and Catherine L. Moore; in her own tales of Arabic deserts, she brings a peculiar darkness to pulp fiction that is far from the lightweight escapism it was once accused of. At best, her depiction of harsh landscapes and the evil men who inhabit them evokes a feeling of doom, while her protagonists are presented with merciless enemies and treasures that may be more curse than blessing: it is not an accident Robert Weinberg's introduction draws parallels with hardboiled crime fiction and film noir. This is where Pendarves' strength lies: in showing a darker side to 1920s North Africa, where the encampments of Touareg bandits, strongholds of slavers and the last remains of lost civilisations may still lie unexplored beyond European knowledge, she can easily create the stuff of thrilling adventures. When she sets up her stories, she evokes a fascination in readers that shows great ability with words, and an attention to vividly painted characters. Stories such as "The Black Camel," the titular "Thirty Pieces of Silver" or "El Hamel, the Lost One" are prime examples that show her ability in full.
However, the collection is not without its serious flaws, often going back to the typical mistakes found in other pulp stories. Pendarves has serious trouble with her pacing: if the setups are brilliant and intriguing, resolution is often weak; the stories, of which seven are featured in a slim 148 page book, are too short to bring their plot to a satisfactory conclusion. Even when they are executed well, they feel hurried and incomplete; elsewhere, they are resolved through contrived methods, even deus ex machina. It is a pity they could not be longer: since the same problem crops up in the shorter stories of Harold Lamb, it is possible Pendarves could have accomplished more in twice as many pages. As is, too much is left to coincidence to feel right, and some of the victories the protagonists gain don't seem very hard-earned or satisfactory: in fact, letting them fail might have been a better alternative. Finally, it must be noted that much like other pulp authors, Pendarves wrote in a different age than our own (in fact, she was already of advanced age in the 1930s), and some of her characterisations may be seen today as heavily prejudiced. This, however, is not any worse than what other, celebrated writers of the genre had done.
In sum, Thirty Pieces of Silver is recommended as a flawed but nevertheless enthralling example of genre fiction; although not up to the standards set by Harold Lamb, Talbot Mundy and Robert E. Howard (whose oriental stories are perhaps most similar in tone to that of Pendarves), the collection, which is presented in book form for the first time, is worth a read for its virtues rather than condemnation for its flaws.
This review originally appeared on Amazon.com.
To purchase a copy of this book visit our Thirty Pieces of Silver listing.