Books of Kane

Last week I pre-ordered a couple of books by one of my favourite Sword and Sorcery authors, Karl Edward Wagner. This morning The Book of Kane and Death Angel’s Shadow automagically appeared on my Kindle courtesy of Amazon and Gateway. These are books have been out of print for a long time and can usually only be found for hideously inflated prices on eBay. Now they are sitting there on my ereader inviting immediate attention.

It is a mark of the age we live in and a huge change from the world in which I grew up. As a teenager I treasured my fantasy books because they only intermittently appeared in the spinner racks of the local newsagents or on the shelves of Stranraer’s John Menzies. If you were a fantasy fan, you just grabbed whatever you saw while it was still there. You could go a long time between fixes of fantasy in those days. These days ebooks are slowly but surely making available almost all the texts I so desperately wanted to get my hands on.

The Sixties and Seventies were the time of the great rediscovery of 30s pulp. Paperbacks with covers by the likes of Frank Frazetta and Bruce Pennington introduced me to Robert E Howard, Clark Ashton Smith and H P Lovecraft.

Wagner’s Kane books came slightly later, somewhere around the mid–70s if I recall correctly, but they were definitely part of that tradition. As a teenager, I found them disturbing, to say the least. Characters you cared about died with a regularity that would have done credit to George R. R. Martin. There were always horrific undertones to the work of the pulp greats but Wagner amped them up to eleven. The stories were astonishingly dark. Kane himself was about as far from a hero as it was possible to get; a psychotic killing machine, an evil sorcerer, a doomed immortal cursed to wander the world for millennia. Somehow he managed to be both charismatic and occassionally sympathetic.

We were still in recognisable sword and sorcery territory. The world held echoes of Lovecraftian horror, just as,in some ways, Howard’s Conan stories did. There were elements of science fiction too with the Elder Races who were quite obviously not from this world.

The stories were beautifully constructed, the prose was impressive and the characterisation done at a level that was not common in the genre.

These ebooks are collections of Wagner’s short stories about Kane. One oddity is that the same story , Reflections For The Winter Of My Soul, appears in both of them. It’s a great story, a country house murder mystery featuring a werewolf (and I promise you a lot less genteel than this makes it sound), but this seems like overkill.

Death Angel’s Shadow contains pretty much what I remember being in the paperback version. There’s just three stories but two of them, the aforementioned Reflections and Cold Light are crackers. The latter is a long novella in which Kane is hunted through the ruins of a dead city by the so-good-he’s-bad Gaetha the Avenger and his henchmen. The third story Mirage is a minor work but still worth a read.

The Book of Kane features some but not all of the contents of the collection Night Winds. Three of my all time favourite stories Undertow, Two Suns Setting and Lynortis Reprise are missing. Instead you get Misericorde and The Other One. I’m not sure why this happened and I do hope the missing stories show up in a future volume. It would be nice to have access to these sword and sorcery classics.

You do get another of my favourites, Raven’s Eyrie, which features a sinister family reunion under the light of the Demon Lord’s moon on the one night when the hordes of hell are free to roam the earth.

I do hope that Gateway get round to releasing Wagner’s Kane novels Bloodstone, Darkness Weaves and Dark Crusade as soon as possible. They’re off to a fine start with the release of these two books.


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Comments

  1. Thomas Ryan says:

    I loved Mr Wagner’s work also. I am glad to see his writings in ebook format as I have hoarded his paperback through several moves and forced downsizing in my library. Unfortunately they are not available until May here in the States. I was also struck by Kane’s character. He was definitely not your typical hero and in some of the stories borders on being the villain. I want to thank you for letting me know that they are once again available.

  2. Egbert Hinzen says:

    I’m an old Kane-fan, too.
    Owning (nearly) all of the (novels and stories) in English and German, I love to see that some of the stories are available again.

    BUT this anthologies??? If I sort all the Kane by timeline, “The Book of Kane” contains the stories 13, 09, 15, 08, and 11, “Death Angel’s Shadow” the stories 13, 05, and 14.

    I would really like to see “Gods in Darkness” (all the novels) and “The Midnight Sun” (all the stories) again. Also an anthology of the “modern times Kane”(stories 15-20) would be fine.

  3. Tony Graham says:

    I’m a fan of KEW as well. I was lucky enough to discover his paperbacks in the 70s as they were released. Originally drawn by the Frazetta covers, I was intrigued – this was Conan gone horribly wrong in the most fascinating way possible: all the barbaric savagery intermingled with strong Lovecraftian elements and a heavy sense of immortality as a burden.
    The two volume collection from Night Shade Books was a real treat, particularly the inclusion of a fragment from an unwritten 4th Kane novel: In the Wake of Night.
    I’m 70% into OCEAN OF FEAR and while ready for the trip into the Heart of Darkness, you’ve surprised me by also scratching the lasting itch left by Wagner’s unfinished Kane novel for me.
    I seem to enjoy each successive Kormak novel more than its predecessor. The variety you’re creating in his saga without losing the consistent character and tone is wonderful!
    Not that I’m forgiving you for the much delayed Brodie novel, mind you. We fans are an ungrateful, demanding bunch, after all… :-)
    Pardon me, I have a drink and a novel to finish.
    Cheers!

  4. Thanks Tony,

    My reply to your comment was eaten by server maintenance. It may reappear so there could be a temporary double entry of similar comments here. Anyway, onwards.

    I remember those Frazetta covers like it was yesterday, particularly the one for Darkness weaves. Can’t go wrong with Kane with a battle-axe on a ship.

    I really enjoyed reading Death Angels Shadow again and very much enjoyed Book of Kane too. Getting to read a couple of Kane stories I have not seen before is not a pleasure I will have again, I suspect. Not unless Wagner left a cache of undiscovered stories which seems unlikely given his rate of production.

    Ocean of Fear is very much my tribute to KEW as I will no doubt get round to explaining in far too much detail when I do the Author’s Notes. With the Kormak series I was aiming for a tone similar to his but a little more ambiguous. We might be looking at a Lovecraftian SF/Horror world filtered through the mind of a medieval man and thus transformed into epic fantasy or it can read as be straight-up epic fantasy. It’s a style that’s gone deeply out of fashion since the 70s but which I loved back then.

    For what its worth I am planning some more Brodie books but I need to get ahead with the Kormaks first to buy the time to write them. Let’s see how that works out!

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