Bloodstone by Karl Edward Wagner

bloodstone

 

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.

conan

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.

night

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?

Night Winds by Karl Edward Wagner

Frak

 

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.

night

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!