(The following review is based on an advanced readers' copy.)

Now THIS is Tarzan!

A few years back, in a review of one entry in the recent spate of new novels featuring the famed jungle hero that have been authorized by Edgar Rice Burroughs Inc. over the past decade or so, I made the following observation: "As a life-long fan, I have long been of the opinion that even lackluster Tarzan tales are ultimately better than no new Tarzan tales at all. (I’ll be the first one to admit that some stories have sorely tested this belief, but in general I think it remains a valid point of view.)"

It pleases me, well beyond my meager ability to properly convey, that I can honestly and enthusiastically report the following: the latest such adventure, Win Scott Eckert's Tarzan: Battle For Pellucidar, is far from being "lackluster." I'll even go so far as to say that this is, in fact, the very best Tarzan novel to have appeared in a good, long time. 

And I'm perfectly willing to sic little Nkima (who, after all, was given his own stash of Kavuru pills) on anyone who says otherwise.

Since ERB Inc. ramped up its long-dormant publication program several years ago, with the launch of the "Wild Adventures" series, the new additions to the Tarzan mythos in particular have been… well, let's be honest, uneven at best. My love for the character is such that I have found something to enjoy in each and every one of them - even when, as noted above, the total overall result may not have been to my individual liking. But at the same time I came away from each and every one of them feeling some degree of disappointment, and in one or two instances even questioning whether the author had ever bothered to read any of the ERB originals. (I'm still scratching my head, for example, over one author's apparent attempt to re-imagine Tarzan as "Batman of the Apes" - but that's a discussion for another time...)

I had no such questions or misgivings regarding Battle of Pellucidar upon finishing the book - released under the separate, canonical "Edgar Rice Burroughs Universe" banner, as opposed to the aforementioned "Wild Adventures" umbrella. I'm telling you, Win Scott Eckert has hit it clear out of the park with this novel. (Sports metaphors usually aren't my thing… did I do that right?)

Even if I had not already been familiar with Eckert's previous efforts as an author experienced with other licensed properties, or already known about his own deep love for Burroughs and Tarzan, it would have obvious to me as a fan myself that this is a writer who has done his homework. This is Lord Greystoke as ERB first imagined and presented him to the world more than a century ago: noble savage, fierce warrior, loyal to friends and family, a man more at home in the wild but able to don what Burroughs called “the thin veneer of civilization" when the situation demands. 

For the first time in a long time, I felt that I was in the presence of the real Tarzan. And a grand and glorious reunion it has proved to be. (And as the title indicates, Tarzan is not the only old friend we get to see again during the course of the tale - but I don't want to spoil any surprises.)

Set during the height of World War II (and a few months prior to the events of ERB's Tarzan and the "Foreign Legion," one of my favorite titles in Burroughs' later cycle of Tarzan tales) Eckert's adventure sends the Lord of the Jungle - now as before in the company of a valiant team of adventurers that once again includes ERB's friend Jason Gridley - on a return trip to that savage and mysterious prehistoric world at the earth's core. There they find themselves pitted against not only the monstrous Mahars and other denizens of Pellucidar, but also the single greatest evil that Mankind has ever known: the Nazis, who naturally have their own dark designs with eyes set on secrets held by the Inner World that could ultimately aid their efforts at global domination…

To say more would be to rob others of the joy they will encounter when reading the book for themselves. (Or, as the kids these days are so fond of saying: "No spoilers!") Suffice it to say that the Jungle Lord and his companions find themselves in a thrilling adventure that would have had Old Burroughs himself cheering with the turning of each page. Eckert even manages to properly explain an incident depicted in one of ERB's later Pellucidar novels that many readers - Richard Lupoff and my late father among them - have long regarded as something of a "cheat" on the part of the Master of Adventure.

(Did I mention that Tarzan battles the Nazis? Take THAT, Hitler!)

Along the way there are references to other stories - some by ERB, some written by others - that add to the overall sense of fun and further cement the cohesive fictional universe that ERB (the first writer to do so) created when he had John Carter's nephew track down the evidence of Tarzan's existence before receiving that first message from David Innes and then discovering the bottle containing Bowen Tyler's account of his adventures on Caspak…

Like the previous book in the new "ERB Universe" series, Battle For Pellucidar is both an enjoyable adventure on its own AND the second chapter of a marvelously conceived, four-novel super-arc entitled Swords of Eternity. And like the first volume in that super-arc - Matt Betts' wonderful Carson of Venus: The Edge Of All Worlds - this new book also includes a couple of special features that further build upon the larger story being told. 

Mike Wolfer's contribution, a novelette entitled "Victory Harben: Clash On Caspak," puts the focus on the new ERB Universe character created for the super-arc and fills in some of the details that have thus far only been hinted at in the novels themselves. And there's a fun little surprise at the conclusion of the book - you might call it the literary equivalent of those post-end credit scenes in the Marvel Cinematic Universe films - that sets the stage for even greater adventures to come.

There is so very much more about this book that I want to say - but I fear I've rambled on for too long as it is and, as noted above, I really do want to avoid spoiling the fun for other readers. Suffice it to say that I heartily recommend Tarzan: Battle For Pellucidar to anyone who loves Edgar Rice Burroughs, has enjoyed the previous works of Win Scott Eckert, or is simply a fan of what they used to call "ripping good yarns."

Let me conclude by offering the following:

I have written in the past about how my father first introduced me to the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs when I was in the third grade. I will not rehash that memory again here - except to note that this was back in the fall of 1971, when what Lupoff and others have called the "Great Burroughs Boom" was still in full bloom. In the forty-nine years that have passed since then, my greatest desire as a reader has been to find authors who not merely remind me of Burroughs in terms of both style and substance, but actually seem to channel the Master to such an extent that it feels like I am reading ERB himself.

In all that time, I have been able to count on the fingers of just one hand the authors whose contributions to the Tarzan Mythos have had that kind of effect on me: Fritz Leiber, Philip José Farmer, Joe Lansdale and, now, Win Scott Eckert. (And we can expand that list ever-so-slightly by the inclusion of two writers who have contributed to the exploits of other ERB heroes besides Tarzan: Christopher Paul Carey and Matt Betts.)

I can think of no greater compliment.  Rate this one as Five Stars!