John Jakes is a name anyone who ever walked through a bookstore in the 1970s and ’80s will recognize. He became famous (and rich) for his North and South civil war trilogy, and the Kent Family Chronicles, a series of historical fiction novels set during the American Revolution and published in the years before and after the Bicentennial in 1976.
But long before he became a New York Times bestseller, he was a prolific writer in multiple genres, including science fiction and fantasy.
One example is this paperback edition of Witch of the Dark Gate, which hails from 1972. I bought this book new at a shopping mall bookstore, as I recall. I’d never heard of Jakes at that point and, I’ll admit, I bought the book in large part because of the Frank Frazetta cover. Even then I was a Frazetta fan, thanks to his work on the Conan the Barbarian books that were being reissued at that time. Can a cover alone make a sale? It sure made me plunk down my 95 cents for this one. Lesson learned.
I recall liking the story, although I think I somehow missed the part about this being a sequel, and was slightly frustrated that I hadn’t read the first book in the series before this one. Whatever its merits, it didn’t make me seek out other Jakes books. But I do recall performing a classic double-take years later when I first saw his mainstream historical novels piled high at the front of the bookstore on the best-seller display. I wonder what all those North and South fans would have thought of this?
John Jakes is certainly not forgotten, but many of his earlier science fiction and fantasy works have drifted into obscurity. I look forward to giving this one the second chance it deserves, even if it is 40 years later.