Janissaries: Clan and Crown by Jerry Pournelle and Roland Green Book Review

Janissaries: Clan and Crown [Amazon link] is the second installment in Jerry Pournelle’s long-running Janissaries series. Jerry was solo author on the first one, but this volume was co-authored with Roland Green, who somehow didn’t rate a mention on the cover in 1982. Jerry made sure he was brought up in the afterword at least. Clan and Crown is an apt subtitle for this volume, as Rick Galloway and his CIA mercenaries turned planetary adventurers get deep into the politics of Tran.

Janissaries: Clan and Crown by Jerry Pournelle and Roland Green Ace Books 1982

Janissaries: Clan and Crown by Jerry Pournelle and Roland Green Ace Books 1982

My Ace SF paperback is a bit smaller than the Massively Illustrated! Janissaries, but it is still a pretty big edition. The interior art was done by Josep Maria Martin Sauri, which I find well done, but not as evocative as Bermejo’s work. There are a couple of other things of note about my edition. Mine is signed by Jerry Pournelle, although not inscribed to me, and when I bought this edition used in 2015, it contained one of Jerry Pournelle’s business cards. So even though the physical volume isn’t quite as nice as the first one, I do feel a special fondness for this one.

An example of the interior art, and an inscription to Reese

An example of the interior art, and an inscription to Reese

While Janissaries is often described as military science fiction, a big emphasis here is on political intrigue. When the book opens, we meet a pair of mercenaries who deserted with their weapons coming back into the fold. That means not only re-negotiating the relationship with their former commanding officer, Rick Galloway, but also inserting themselves into the status hierarchy of the kingdom of Drantos, where Rick has his power base.

There are questions of protocol, of precedence, of permission that must be successfully navigated. Only by mastering the local culture can the starmen truly be successful, no matter how powerful their weapons are. But of course, not everyone is pleased at the entry of the starmen into the game of thrones, leading to a multiplication of plots and conspiracies.

Much of this nest of vipers has been stirred up by Rick himself, who not only married into the nobility, but also introduced military innovations like pikes that reduced the utility of cavalry on the battlefield. Jerry is clearly playing with the idea that certain military technologies tend to produce forms of government. However, it is all happening on an accelerated timescale so we can see chivalry and feudalism giving way to a centralized monarchy.

There are of course some spectacular battles as well, with the Romans to the east and the Westmen to the west. The latter is most interesting to me, as Jerry and Roland setup a conflict with the bane of civilization, the steppe horse archer. These particular nomads seem largely inspired by the Plains Indians like the Sioux and Cheyenne, although they have the bows of the Mongols. Having recently read Wooden Leg: A Warrior Who Fought Custer [Amazon link], I can see that the battle at the end of the book is largely based on Little Big Horn, except that the cavalry has chainmail.

A reasonable facsimile of Tran religion, the blending of European pre-Christian paganism with ChristianityBaldur by Johan Egerkrans

A reasonable facsimile of Tran religion, the blending of European pre-Christian paganism with Christianity

Baldur by Johan Egerkrans

Jerry and Roland chose to name about half of the chapters in Clan and Crown after the traditional choirs of angels; and so religion continues to play an important role in Tran. Since Tran was peopled by abductees from Earth, all of the religions on Tran are historical ones, and so I find them more plausible than the typical invented ones in science fiction. Drantos exhibits a hearth and home polytheism very much like pre-Christian Rome, with Yatar (Jupiter) as chief deity, but Vothan One-Eyed (Odin) is widely respected, if not exactly loved by the warrior nobility. The actual Romans are from after the spread of Christianity, and so are simply Christians as the faith was practiced pre-1054.

The cult of Yatar in particular is important on Tran because of its role in preserving the legends of the Demon Star, the third sun in their system that periodically comes close enough to cause catastrophic climate changes, and also because of their custody of caves that can preserve food and offer shelter at the perihelion of the third sun. Providentially, the plant that preserves the temperature of the caves grows best as the Demon Sun approaches.

Like many Pournelle books, the cast of characters in Clan and Crown is large, which can be something of a challenge at times. Later editions included a list of Dramatis Personae, which helps. However, this means we get to see the radical changes sweeping Tran from many points-of-view, giving the book an epic scope. I feel that the book is an excellent sequel to Janissaries, and that the styles of Roland Green and Jerry Pournelle blended well here. Very much recommended.

My other book reviews | Reading Log

Other books by Jerry Pournelle


The Prince (Colonel Falkenberg Omnibus)
King David’s Spaceship

Golden Road

The Burning City
Burning Tower

There Will Be War

There Will Be War Volume IX: After Armageddon
There Will Be War Volume X


Janissaries [first review in 2011]
Janissaries [second review in 2020]

Red Heroin

Red Heroin [as Wade Curtis]