Island of the Sorcerer Released

The latest Kormak short story, Island of the Sorcerer has gone live. Here’s the blurb:

A longship of giant warriors missing at sea. An ancient island of alien magic risen from the depths of the ocean. Long dead wizards returned from beyond the grave. Kormak must cope with all three in this thrilling tale of swords and sorcery.

You can find it through the links below. Unfortunately, as of the time of writing Island of the Sorcerer is not up on either Kobo or Google Play. They will get there sooner or later though.

Islandofthesorcerer

Amazon US

Amazon UK

Amazon DE

Smashwords

Nook

Apple


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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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Elric Among the Nazis

Last year Gollancz announced it was going to be making all of Michael Moorcock’s genre work available both in print and in ebook form. It was exciting news for me. Moorcock was my gateway drug to genre fantasy more than 40 years ago. I own most of his stuff in paperback but the books are scattered hither and yon about the world and quite frankly you can’t beat ebooks for convenience, particularly when you’re a long term expat like me.

Recently the first books in the new Michael Moorcock Library rolled off the digital presses (or whatever) and I was delighted to note a completely new (to me) cycle of Elric tales called the Moonbeam Roads. Turns out they were not quite new– Daughter of Dreams looks like it’s a retitled version of the The Dreamthief’s Daughter but that was OK by me. I never got a chance to read it when it first came out because it was not released in the UK. As a bonus the new version comes with an introduction from both John Clute and Mr Moorcock himself. How could I resist?

Anyway, off to Amazon I go, and download the book and into the prose I leap. It’s in first person, which is unusual for an Elric book, and that first person is not Elric, nor is the setting The Young Kingdoms. The narrator is Ulric Von Bek, descendant of that Von Bek who told the tale of The Warhound and the World’s Pain and the setting is our own dear earth sometime between the World Wars. I am not too bothered because I am familiar with Moorcock’s Eternal Champion mythology and the way his multiversal mythos all interlinks and hey, I like the man’s prose.

The story starts with a shuffling slowness but is nonetheless engrossing. We meet Von Bek’s cousin, Gaynor, another name familiar to people who sail around the multiverse on a regular basis. Gaynor is one of Moorcock’s more entertaining recurring villains. In this particular volume he is working for the Nazis, and in search of both the Holy Grail and the Black Sword. Von Bek’s family as it turns out are guardians of the Grail and as it happens our hero is in possession of a black sword that bears more than a passing resemblance to Stormbringer. Soon Von Bek is having visions of white hares, other worlds and an albino who looks not unlike a certain proud prince of ruins. He’s abducted by Nazis, thrown into a concentration camp, and finally escapes Gaynor’s clutches with the aid of a couple of otherworldly travellers. We’re about a third of the way through the book now though and still no Elric. I am starting to feel a little mis-sold.

Still we’re also running through the Mittel Marches, the fantasy worlds that intersect with our own in the multiverse, being pursued by Nazis through a strange tunnel world occupied by one of those idealised philosopher races Mr Moorcock likes so much. I’m not unhappy with the book so much as confused by the non-arrival of the putative star. It’s all a bit like that Steven Seagal/Kurt Russell movie where Mr Seagal gets killed in the opening fifteen minutes and you spend the rest of the movie wondering whether he’s going to reappear because his name is above the credits. (Spoiler alert: he doesn’t. Incidentally it’s my favourite Steven Seagal movie.)

After some more adventures, Elric finally manifests himself by taking possession of Von Bek’s body and we have two facets of the Eternal Champion for the price of one. We also have Elric’s alien consciousness mediated by the human, first person voice of Von Bek, which is a first as far as I can recall.

The plot kicks into gear and I am sure long term Moorcock readers will be unsurprised to learn that Tanelorn is under threat, this time by Miggea, the mad duchess of Law. It’s all part of the same vast universal conflict that the struggle with the Nazis is in our world. There’s much toing and froing, chasing after Gaynor and being chased by him. There’s dragons, there’s colossal world-shaking feats of sorcery and there’s sword fights. There’s a confrontation between Elric and the leaders of the Nazi party. I don’t want to say too much else for fear of spoilers. Oh OK then– here’s one– the Nazis don’t win.

You’ve probably noticed a supercilious tone to this review. I’m not exactly sure where it’s coming from. I enjoyed Daughter of Dreams greatly. The set-pieces, like the dragon flight over Europe, are great. And Elric when he finally arrives is as full of star quality as ever. The writing is very, very good indeed.

And yet, I was left partially unsatisfied or at least uneasy. Part of it is that in places the first person narration slows things down without saying anything particularly interesting. It becomes an excuse for Von Bek to philosophise about Nazism and the banality of evil. Part of it I think is that setting Elric among the Nazis feels a bit blasphemous. Conflating concentration camps and cosmic sorcery leaves me uneasy.

It’s the sort of transgressive thing that many people love but the truth is Daughter of Dreams is a romp, and a romp through the ruins of Auschwitz seems to me a very odd thing. Moorcock does some very nice things with the imagery, including commenting on its influence on his own fiction, but in the end of the mixture of real world horrors with heavy metal, sword and sorcery imagery did not quite gel, for me at least.

As always though Moorcock is never less than interesting and the best bits of the book are very good indeed. It’s not my favourite Elric book but it is a good one.

Author’s Notes: Stealer of Flesh

I know, it’s a bit silly to be writing up the Author’s Notes five months or so after the book was released but what the hell– I’ve been busy and I’ve been sick and these things get done in their own time. 

Stealer of Flesh is a book that Amazon made possible. Seriously. All of my life I have wanted to write something like it but I was born at the wrong time. In order to explain that we need to rewind to when I was a very young teenager. I grew up reading, among other things, lots of good, old-fashioned sword and sorcery;  Robert E Howard’s Conan and Solomon Kane; Michael Moorcock’s Elric, Corum and Hawkmoon books; Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, Clark Ashton Smith’s Zothique and Hyperborea and Averoigne stories and many more. These were not the sort of fantasy novels or series that fill the shelves these days.

For the most part they were relatively short books, often made up of collections of short stories or novellas. They very often featured a recurring hero or heroes in a quasi-medieval fantasy world. They were often very dark, and while they featured magic, it was not the sort of Swiss Army Knife tech substitute easily adaptable to a fully developed game system that we see in a lot of modern fantasy. It was often something that inspired awe and dread, fear and horror, in about equal measures. The stories were tales of a swordsman or swordsmen (only very occasionally woman like Jhirel of Jhoiry) fighting against wizards and monsters. They were fast-moving, hard-hitting and a product of a pulp sensibility. I loved them then as I love them now.

By the time I was a full-time professional writer, the time for such stories seemed to have passed. Somewhere down the line the market changed. Fantasy books got longer (and longer and longer), old-fashioned sword-swinging heroes went out of fashion. Magic became a good thing, a new form of power-fantasy for an age that put more emphasis on the intellectual and on technique. (I strongly suspect the rise of Dungeons and Dragons and such role-playing games had something to do with this but that’s a topic for another day.) It became almost impossible to get the sort of sword and sorcery books I wanted to write into print. They were too short and too focused for the era of fat-book fantasy. I got close once with Trollslayer which was a collection of the Gotrek and Felix short stories but that was about it. I took to writing long-form novels and my short story writing was put on hold to say the very least.

Back in 2005 though I wrote a story called Guardian of the Dawn about a monster-hunter called Kormak. I had the vague plan of building a fantasy world by writing a series of short stories. Guardian was picked up by Howard Andrew Jones then the editor of the Flashing Swords website. The story was popular and many people asked for a sequel. I thought the character had potential and I set myself to writing some.

I immediately ran into some problems, the main one being that I make my living from writing, and short stories are not an economical way of supporting myself and my family. The obvious solution was to write a novel. I tried and I tried and I tried. I just could not wrestle Kormak into the form or at least the variant of the form that was needed to sell to a publisher, you know  a 90-120,000 word quest fantasy. I wanted to do something shorter, punchier, more like the series of my youth. I added sub-plots, I tried to do epic quests, I spliced in multiple story-lines, I outlined, I wrote 35000 words and abandoned it because I just could not make it fly. It did not want to fit the shape I was trying to force it into. Oh well, I thought. I’ve abandoned projects before, I’ll abandon them again. Time to move on.

Fast forward 6 years or so. It’s late 2011 and I had just released the first of my Terrarch novels as an e-book on Amazon’s Kindle. I was thinking about the possibilities opened up by this new publishing format and distribution system. It dawned on me that I was not limited to the word count limits and formats of conventional publishing. I released Guardian of the Dawn as an e-book and it sold very well, better than the first novels in the Terrarch series had on their release. It seemed possible that there was a way to proceed with the Kormak series after all. I could release them myself as short stories and then collect them together at the end. There was no need to worry about finding someone to publish them. I could do that myself with the minimum of fuss.

So, working in the inevitable intervals that occur in writing books and in my spare time and on my weekends, I started work on another Kormak story. It was set in a city, and it involved him in a hunt for a body-shifting demon. He met an attractive lady thief and an expatriate mage and there were hints of things darker and deeper in the background. I called the story Stealer of Flesh. It was novella length by the time I finished it and I was pleased. 

I realised that the story hinted at a much greater arc. It began in medias res near the climax of Kormak’s hunt for the demon prince Razhak and spoke of a hunt across the length of a continent. I decided I would write about that hunt and how it started. So I wrote The Demon Unleashed showing how a cabal of immortality seeking sorcerers had freed Razhak using Kormak’s own enchanted blade. It came to me then that I could write a book somewhat like Moorcock’s Stormbringer, which was a collection of linked novellas released individually that eventually built into an epic novel. 

I pushed on. Next came the Wolves of War, as Kormak’s hunt for the demon took him across a land haunted by ethnic cleansing werewolves and refugees from that terrible struggle, a place where Light and Shadow were just masks worn by old historic hatreds.

I had a false start with the next story although it came with a truly haunting opening, Kormak riding across an icebound lake filled with frozen corpses. I could not quite make it gel though so I pushed on.

Along the way the stories and fragments provided me with glimpses of Kormak’s world, of how the demon race that Razhak was a member of had come to be, and of the ancient empires that had shaped the world. It was an odd place, with echoes of Tolkien filtered through Robert E Howard. It was a place that looked a bit like a traditional epic fantasy world but seen through the lens of realpolitik. People claimed to represent the Light and that their foes were of the Shadow but mostly they behaved like the amoral denizens of an old-style sword and sorcery world, which is to say like most people have behaved through most of history. At the centre of it all stood Kormak, watchful, decent, struggling to do the right thing in a world where what was right was often hard to get at.

I rewrote the novellas as I went along incorporating all the new information as it came up. My original plan had been to release them as I wrote them, but I realised if I was going to be constantly rewriting and adding new bits of history I could not do that. No matter, I would just run with it. I was keen to see how it all turned out. I wrote a final novella, This Way Lies Death as a capstone to it all. The whole story of the chase came to a climax in the haunted city on the edge of the world where the demons had been born. 

And so I was done. All I needed to do was put the stories together and release the e-book, which is what I did. I never did get the frozen lake story finished in a way I liked so I left it out but I am sure that some day I will find a way to complete it. 

Kormak: Stealer of Flesh Released

Just wanted to announce that Stealer of Flesh, the first Kormak novel– well, a collection of linked novelettes really, has been released. In a blatant effort to promote sales, the Kormak short story Guardian of the Dawn will be free until midnight Thursday as well.

STEALER OF FLESH

To the world at large, he is a mercenary and assassin, a brutal killer with a deadly blade. In reality Kormak is a Guardian, one of a near-extinct order sworn to protect humanity from the servants of the gathering darkness.

The Ghul are the Stealers of Flesh, an ancient race of demons who possess the bodies of humans to work great evil. Now one of them has been freed from its ancient prison using Kormak’s own Dwarf-forged sword and  the Guardian must pursue it to a haunted city on the edge of the world.

Stealer of Flesh contains four-linked novelettes that tell the epic tale of Kormak’s hunt for a prince of demons. In it he encounters a conspiracy of demented mages, an army of werewolves, Orcish blademasters and a beautiful alchemist and her insane poet brother

Available now from Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.

Guardian of the Dawn can be found at Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.