Sax Rohmer gained his greatest fame as the author of the Fu Manchu books but he wrote countless other pulp novels. All of which are great fun, although all are politically incorrect in one way or another. Brood of the Witch-Queen combines the breathless overheated excitement and adventure and the diabolical criminal masterminds of the Fu Manchu and Sumuru novels with all manner of fiendish occult wickedness.
Robert Cairn is a terribly brave and very noble young man, the kind of Englishman who built the Empire. Or at least he’s the kind of Englishman Sax Rohmer liked to imagine as an Empire-builder, Rohmer being very much in favour of the Empire. He finds himself involved in an epic life or death struggle with a sinister young man, a fellow medical student named Antony Ferrara. Ferrara is the adopted son of Sir Michael Ferrara, an eminent Egyptologist and a close friend and colleague of Robert Cairns’ father (a celebrated doctor who dabbles in Egyptology). Antony Ferrara doesn’t share Robert’s manly interests, and he’s very popular with women, so he’s already regarded with deep suspicion.
But he isn’t just unmanly, he’s an unnatural fiend who pursues forbidden knowledge. And he has designs on his father’s daughter, the pretty heiress Myra. Robert Cairns is also in love with Myra, although of course in his case it’s a healthy and manly sort of love. Slowly but surely Robert and his father realise they’re dealing with unimaginable evil, with vampires, black magic and occult powers that have lain dormant since the days of Ancient Egypt.
Originally published in 1918, it’s all very silly and outrageous, and yet it’s also wonderfully entertaining. It’s very very pulpy, it’s campy and it’s trashy, but it’s also fast-paced, clever, ingeniously contrived and thoroughly enjoyable (assuming of course that you like pulpy trashy fun yarns of adventure and supernatural horror). The idea of using photography for occult purposes is rather cute as well.