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?

The Silverleaf Chronicles by Vincent Trigili

Silver

One of the many blogs and newsletters I read had a low cost offering for this book and that is something I can never resist. I would give a shout out to where I found it but I don’t recall at this moment (Might have been Tor). I had never encountered Trigili but looking at his page on Amazon he has been writing for quite some time.

I enjoyed The Silverleaf Chronicles (The Dragon Masters Book 1) and it was a fast read, but I thought that it had a number of flaws (or perceived flaws) that annoyed me. I should mention that what bothers me in one book I often do not notice in another so all complaints should be taken with a grain of salt.

The book follows a man named Silverleaf, who comes from one of the clans of the Forest People. They look just like humans but some of them are born to control dragons. However dragons went extinct centuries before and so the potential dragon masters slowly go insane. However when they go insane they also become frightening efficient killing machines as well. Silverleaf is a dragonmaster and has fled his home so that he does not inflict harm on those he loves.

As he wanders he reaches a small town and sets up work as a smithy to earn some money. While repairing a rare ax the town is invaded by a foreign army. The one strange thing about the foe is that they have armored, android like troops that have the ability to fire destructive beams from their arms and are mind controlled by humans. Much like the army in the classic bad movie Krull. In many ways the movie had an interesting cast with both Liam Neeson and Robbie Coltrane in supporting roles-I kid you not.

krull
Sadly no dragons

Silverleaf manages to fight his way out, accompanied by Kaylissa, the serving girl from the inn where he was taking his meals. He discovers that she is also from the Forest Clans and returns her to the clans, and then departs again.

The book chronicles their relationship as she follows and reunites with him and his battle with the madness. This is the strongest part of the book, but even here I think there is a problem. Silverleaf has been living as an almost feral animal, and was part of a wolf pack for a time. He no longer remembers his past and seems barely human. One quick battle and he is now a thoughtful teacher, helping Kaylissa on her way to beating the madness. Wow that was fast.

The world building is almost non-existent. No maps or sense of distance. You are told that once a vast civilization existed in that area yet no one seems to ever encounter ruins, aside from one impregnable fortress. Aside from this there are forests, a few isolated villages and a rumor of cities to the south.

That fortress, Drac’nor, is where all of the clans of the Forest People retreat at the first onset of the foreign army. The scenario where they decide to go does not ring true. Silverleaf meets the ruler of one of the clans. The leader asks what they should do. Silverleaf says retreat to the fortress. “Ok stranger that we have never met, we will follow your instructions and off they go with nary a word raised about abandoning their ancestral homeland.  It seems that many decisions in the book are made this way. No arguments raised. Also where do they get the food and other supplies when they are in the fortress? Once in the fort, they seem unconcerned about what the enemy is doing away from its borders.

Another odd item is that when Silverleaf comes out of berserker (madness) mode he is ravenous. Nothing odd about that, but it is that he says he needs simple sugars then roots and insects (basically carbs) before he goes on to proteins. All that was missing was a complaint against trans fats.

I did enjoy the writing and the portrayal of the main two characters. The book ends with a lot of unanswered questions and I am interested to see how the author resolves them. There are a number of interesting twists in The Silverleaf Chronicle and so I would expect there to be more in future books. I think that in hindsight the book was probably more targeted at a YA audience, which might explain some of my perceived shortcomings in the book.