If someone recommended a book to me that combines Sword and Sorcery with aliens and space ships I would have nodded my head in appreciation and made a mental note to never ask them for recommendations ever again.
And yet that is what Bloodstone, one of Karl Edward Wagner’s five books on his immortal anti-hero Kane, features. Kane, cursed by an insane Eldur God to forever wander the earth after murdering his brother, does so in a sour and evil manner. Whereas Conan, a character in many ways close to Kane, solves everything with violence and hates magic, Kane often resorts to violent magic as well.
In this book, really almost a novella, Kane is once again seeking to conquer, but this time he is thinking big. In the first of the Kane books I read, a collection of short stories called Night Winds, he was often trying to conquer a single kingdom but here he has set his sights on the entire world.
To do so he is playing two nations against each other and using one to help him find and exploit an ancient city that was founded by a now almost dead alien race and then use the technology to help his erstwhile allies beat its foe. His allies in theory, at least .
In this book you see that numerous alien races had visited the planet long before the ascent of man, and that remnants of them can still be found. You also see Kane in a role that is often just hinted at in the short stories, as a man behind the scenes pulling the strings of others. Wagner does all of this in a smooth and believable manner, slowly evolving the aliens role in a believable manner and adding a few interesting twists.
One of the things I liked about Bloodstone was that it had a host of full fleshed characters and Wagner has the ability to paint a portrait of a person quickly and yet give you a clear image of them. Important since more than a few die pretty quickly after you meet them!
I greatly enjoyed the book, but I think that Night Winds was more stylistically more to my taste, but I can see how others might enjoy this story better. One thing about Kane. The man is untold years old, always seen plotting to conquer a town, a city, a region or a nation. Yet he always seems to fail. I wonder if this is intentional or just part of the development process and that if Wagner have lived longer we would have seen him as a planetary ruler?