One of the first genres I became interested in was Sword and Sorcery inspired primarily by Robert E. Howard’s Conan (with literary assists from Lin Carter and L. Sprague de Camp) and Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and Gray Mouser books, with plenty of help from other authors. I think in part what attracted me was the covers of the Conan books. Done by Frank Frazetta they featured muscle bound warriors with weapons and voluptuous women with veils and in the days prior to video games what could be more appealing to a 14 year old boy?
Decades later I rarely visit that subset of the fantasy genre, but a friend asked me if I had ever read Wagner’s Kane: The Mystic Swordsman books. I had to be honest and admitted that I had not even heard of them and wondered if he was confusing Howards Solomon Kane stories. After a look that implied I was an idiot he went on to patiently explain about the books and offered to lend me one.
So that is how I ended up reading Night Winds, a series of short stories about Kane. Kane is based somewhat on the biblical character who has been cursed with immortality after murdering his brother. In parts a wizard and a mighty warrior, he has seen it all and done it all, if all is evil.
In doing a bit of research I found that most everybody compares Kane to an evil Conan. While I could see the similarities I think that is simply trying to shoehorn one character into another’s space. I found him to be very different. Kane is a much more complex character to start with, willing to argue philosophy with giants and poetry with poets. He is very much the antihero however. His word is not his bond. He murders, rapes and rains ruin on lands as he sees fit. While a mighty wizard, magic in this series is not something that can be quickly or easily used and so when faced with otherworldly foes he often has no recourse but to face them, and then it is luck, not skill that enables him to escape.
Wagner had a close understanding of Howards work, and apparently even wrote in that universe on occasion, but these stories were not just imitations. The first story in the book “Undertow” was much closer to something Jack Vance would have written in his Dying Earth series. Others in the book had a much more horror story bent, leaning towards Lovecraft and that type of story, exemplified by “Sing a Last Song of Valdese” and “Dark Muse.” In both of these Kane is as much an onlooker as a player.
The stories are usually two stories intertwined, and as could be guessed with an immortal character one story is often in the past, but not always. There are very interesting twists in many of the stories and for the most part I enjoyed the writing as well, however at times he seemed a little over the top with purple prose.
I really enjoyed the book, even with the main character such an evil person, with little to redeem him. I am looking forward to reading more and after looking at the high price the books sell for I hope my friend has the complete collection!