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Dare to Know

The Curse of Sagamore  (Sagamore, volume 1)

By Kara Dalkey 

31 May, 2022

Big Hair, Big Guns!


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1986’s The Curse of Sagamore is the first volume in Kara Dalkey’s Sagamore duology.

Several generations ago, King Thalion decided that none of the heirs of his body were worthy of the throne of Euthymia1. His fool, Sagamore, was promoted to king. Unfortunately, this was a role for which neither the fool nor his descendants were suited. 

Prince Abderian is a minor son of Euthymia’s troubled royal family. He has no ambition to sit on the throne. Too bad for him that fate is no respecter of personal preference. 

Abderian bears a liver-shaped mark on his arm. This is the Mark of Sagamore, which appears on the arm of the royal who is the true heir. Abderian’s oldest brother Paralian bore the mark (but never became king). After Paralian’s funeral, Abderian discovers that he now bears the mark — which he hides. He definitely does NOT want to be the target of court intrigue. 

One slip and the court learns that he bears the mark. 

A marked heir is a potentially valuable pawn. Some, like the Lizard Goddess High Priest Tingalut, wish to exploit the prince. Others, like King Valgus the Brutal, would prefer to neutralize him. Abderian may be a naïve young man, but he knows enough to sense that no one angling to control him has his well-being in mind. 

The young prince flees the castle. The wider world turns out to be no less dangerous. For one thing, there’s a dragon. 


This book has been out of print since 1986, as far as I can tell. Despite this, I had no problem finding a copy of this book and of the equally out-of-print sequel as well. Print runs forty years ago were so large that surviving copies of midlist fantasy novels are easy to find. 

Heads-up for the romance fans: Abderian finds his true love, but this is more authorial fiat (book must end with a happy couple) than it is a romance based in shared values and mutual affection. In other words, I didn’t find the love affair convincing and it’s likely that you won’t either. 

Most of the schemers are sure the kingdom’s problems are due to the fact that the wrong king is on the throne. Each faction is certain that their guy is the One True King. The possibility that the problem is that monarchy (the system) is the problem is never considered. The novel does a pretty convincing job of arguing that monarchy is fundamentally broken, a thesis with which I can wholeheartedly agree. 

Having previously read a much later book by Dalkey (2000’s Genpei) I was not sure what to expect from this novel. It turns out I should have expected disappointment. It’s a comic fantasy, of the sort popular at the time. It lacks the polish of later Dalkey books. Indeed … it’s not very good. The plot is energetic, filled with plots, danger, blatant Lord of the Rings references, zany schemes (and the occasional death, from whose grief people recover very quickly). But the jokes and word play all fall a bit flat. 

At least it was short. And if I recall my reading of Genpei correctly, the author got much, much better3.

I note that Dalkey’s ISFDB entry (which I consulted when checking for possible recent editions of Sagamore) is somewhat misleading. It would suggest that Dalkey’s most recent novel is 2002’s Transformation, now twenty years old2. Not so. There is at least one recent work not documented on ISFDB: 2021’s historical fantasy Sword of Sorrow. Perhaps there are others that have been similarly overlooked. 

The Curse of Sagamore appears to be extremely out of print. 

1: To quote Wikipedia, In psychiatry and psychology, euthymia is a normal, tranquil mental state or mood. In those with bipolar disorder, euthymia is a stable mental state or mood that is neither manic nor depressive, yet distinguishable from the state of healthy people.”

2: Dalkey’s 2009 chapbook Ghost Swordwas a novelette. While I will argue that longer novellas are functionally novels, I draw the line at novelettes. 

3: I know where my copy is. Reread?