He had the advantage of surprise, but that was short-lived. In the matter of strength and reflexes he was as near animal as a man can reasonably be, but the creature he fought with was in its own element. Stark grappled with it and it shot upward from the water like a tarpon, breaking his grip. He saw it briefly above him in the cluster-light, outstretched arms shaking diamond drops, body girdled with foam. It looked down at him, laughing, and its eyes were like pearls. Then it was gone in a curving arc that drove it beneath the surface. Its form was manlike, except that there seemed to be webs of skin in odd places, and the head was earless.A planetary fantasy, Brackett’s first after a ten-year hiatus, published in the mid-1970s but really belonging to an earlier decade. Our hero, Eric John Stark, lands on the planet Skaith to seek his mentor Ashton, who has disappeared; he himself was raised by primitives on Mercury before Ashton rescued him and educated him in the ways of humans. (His name on Mercury was N’Chaka, which is suggestive.) On his quest northwards he runs into one well-written peril after another, aided sometimes by Gerrith, daughter of Gerrith, whose vision is that he will destroy the regime of the Lords Protector. (Guess what happens at the end?)
Brackett’s earlier stuff (or at least what I have read for Retro-Hugo purposes) was better, but this is still not bad if pulpy, and frankly much better than the Edgar Rice Burroughs novels which inspired it. But it’s curiously out of place in 1974; The Dispossessed, published the same year, a planetary romance much more in tune with the times, won both the Hugo and the Nebula, and I think most people would agree that the voters got it right. You can get it here.
This was my top unread book acquired in 2014. Next on that list is Earth Girl, by Janet Edwards.