A couple of things before I start in on the review.
1) I'm breaking a personal rule this week because I have not yet finished the book. For my Friday Forgotten Book reviews I usually cover a book I have
And, 2) you have probably noted the question mark by Henry Kuttner's name above. That's because I'm not entirely sure he wrote it. I am reading the 1965 first edition Ace paperback that I bought when the book first came out and inside, there's a scrap of paper, written in my hand, that reds, "Startling Stories (Summer, 1946) written entirely by C. L. Moore, according to Marian Zimmer Bradley." It's been about half a century since I wrote that note and I can't remember where that information came from. Was it from an article by (or interview with) Marion? Was the information from a third source? Or was from one of the few conversations I had with Marion in the early Seventies? I just dunno/can't remember. And -- no matter where I got this tit-bit from -- is it correct? I suspect it is but I can't be sure. The Kuttners (Henry and his wife C. L. Moore) often collaborated and collaborated seamlessly; despite the many styles they used it is often impossible to determine who wrote what or where one stopped and the other began, and I understand that some of Moore's solo work was published under Kuttner's name or under one of their many pseudonyms. In general Moore was more noted for her exotic backgrounds and Kuttner for his plotting, but that cannot be used as an indicator on any specific piece of work. In the end does it matter? The story's a rip-snorter and Henry Kuttner remains the author of record.
Anyway, on to the story which, as noted above, first appeared as a "complete novel" in the Summer 1946 issue of Startling Stories -- one of a number of planetary romance/science fantasy novels the Kuttners wrote for that fondly remembered magazine. (Most of which, but not all, eventually saw publication as Ace paperbacks.)
Or hero is Edward Bond, a WWII pilot who crashed in Cambodia and spent long months healing in a remote village under the care of a local witch doctor. The war over, Bond is now recuperating at his uncle's house in the Limberlost, some fifty miles outside of Chicago. Bond is plagues by strange thoughts -- they certainly couldn't be memories -- of the three talismans of the Fire King sad the water King: the fruit of cul, the rattan with flowers that never fade, and the sword of Yan, the guardian spirit. And a campfire in the distance...could that be a Need-fire calling him? And once in New Orleans Bond awoke to find a huge dog in his room, or was that a dream? Now the dog...No, it's a wolf...appears before him again, along with a small, cowled figure -- Bond recognizes her as Medea, which of Colchis. There is another figure, this one very old with a child-like voice, who is called Ederyn. And Bond is being propelled toward the Need-fire. The three (for the wolf can talk and is named Matholch) call him Ganelon. Another name comes to Bond: Caer Llyr, and that name brings a sense of dread. Suddenly Bond is in the Need-fire...
...And is on another world. No, that's not right. This is the same world, but a different one. Long ago some unknown decision was made or event occurred and Earth diverged into an alternate time line and became the Dark World. The two worlds are so similar that they contain identical people but the two worlds are oh so different as well. The power in this world is held by the Coven, once numbering thirteen beings and now only five remain: Medea, Ederyn, Matholch (a bitter enemy of Ganelon in times past and perhaps now as well), Ghast Rhymi (Ederyn is very old, but Ghast Rhymi is incredibly old), and Ganelon. Bond is Ganelon, stripped of his memories by rebels and transported across the time-barrier to Earth while the real Edward Bond was transported to the Dark World to be recruited by the rebels. The Coven consists of four powerful mutants and Ganelon who is perhaps moire powerful than any, although we are not told why.
You can see where this is going. There is a struggle on this world of magic (or super-science, take your pick) and Edward Bond/Ganelon is smack-dab in the middle of it. Ganelon's memory is slowly returning to him but will he end up as Ganelon or will he retain a part of Edward Bond? What or who is the fearful Caer Llyr? Aside from Mathloch's shape-shifting power, what other abilities do the mutants have?
Most of this is formulaic and predictable but, as with anything by the Kuttners, the real fun is getting there.