Sunday, October 13, 2013
HachiSnax Note: Like some unearthed treasure, I have only just recently discovered the work of Karl Edward Wagner. This is a sad testimonial for one who grew up in the fantasy heyday of the 80's. Whatever the reasons may be, now I have heard of him, and how highly his work is regarded. The first Kane book that I was able to obtain was "Night Winds", which I believe runs fifth in the series. It is a collection of short stories, and it works fine as a standalone, although I don't know yet if any of the supporting cast appear in previous volumes. Each tale will get a grade with an overall score below. Cheers, Hach.
My first foray into Kane's world was everything that I had expected based on what I had heard of Wagner's writing. Undertow is dark, moody, atmospheric, dark, and even slightly chilling. Undertow tells the story of Marvsal and Dessylyn. Marvsal is the captain of a cargo ship, in Carsultyal to be patched up and manned. He meets the beautiful, yet obviously troubled Dessylyn as she is trying to escape the city via his ship. Her demeanor is vague and elusive, but there is one surety; she wants to escape the attentions of Kane, the dreaded wizard that she once loved and who loves her still. As she posits it, that "love" is a twisted mockery of the word; he treats her as a trophy, and dedicates his efforts of necromancy towards concocting foul potions to keep her as his thrall.
But Kane's reputation proceeds him, and therefore freeing Dessylyn from his tendrils will be no easy task. To stress this point, Dessylyn recounts the tale of Dragar, the young barbarian who she loved, and who would have been her erstwhile savior as well.
There are sufficient twists and turns, making the title of this story very appropriate.
Wagner's writing is haunting and ominous here. It takes a lot for a story to actually frighten me, but certain scenes in Undertow do so. Wagner writes with a precision that taps into your subconscious reservoir of fears and lets your inner five year old wonder what is under the bed. As for Kane, his depiction here is everything that I expected; a massive, formidable fighter that is also adept at profane sorcery.
My only question regards continuity; is Dessylyn a character from previous stories or is this her sole outing? It doesn't really matter; as Undertow works masterfully as a standalone piece. There are discussions, or spiritual dialogues, between Kane and Dessylyn that a poetic and brilliant. They have a flow akin to the ripples of the ocean, as heard by someone stranded in its ice depths.
Final Score: 93/100
Two Suns Setting:
This story appears second in the book, but is not a direct sequel. Two Suns Setting finds Kane on a (possibly) self-imposed exodus from Carsultyal. While traversing a vast desert in search of lands where he is not infamous, he happens upon the giant Dwassllir, one of the last of his ancient race. As they sit by a campfire and share a meal, they engage in discussions of their respective races. Kane agrees to accompany Dwassllir on his journey; a perilous venture to explore the nearby caverns and try to discover the legendary tomb of Brotemllain, the last great king of the giants.
Let me start off by saying that this story is masterfully written. There is the great metaphor of the "two setting suns"; the literal sense (although one of the 'suns' is actually the moon, brilliant in the sun's light), and also in reference to the two wanderers; a proud pair that are both licking their emotional wounds. The dialogue between them rings true since it reflects themes that have been relevant across time; the fading elder race scoffs at the soft beings that have usurped them; weak, mewling things that only survive due to the speed with which they breed. The voice of the younger race counters the merits of his kind; arts, literature, architecture, science, technology. Variations of this conversation pass from generation to generation; there is indignation regarding change as well as respect for the strengths of others.
The scenes down in the caverns have a great claustrophobic flair about them. The dusty darkness is palpable, and there is a true creepiness about the denizens of these depths, creatures that time and light forgot.
My big question mark regarding "Two Suns Setting" is: who is this Kane? The Kane in this tale is no different than a standard adventurer. He is still physically formidable, but where have his arcane skills gone? Am I missing something? Does he need tomes or potions to work his art? When he is pinned behind a rock, he is effectively useless, while in Undertow he was blowing doors and shutters off of hinges. Don't get me wrong, this is a great story. I am just guessing that Kane was chosen as the protagonist so as to help the audience feel more invested.
Two Suns Setting is a great parable about pride and former glory. There is some great action in it, and there is a sense of loss and sadness, as well as vindication, that permeates it throughout. What it does not seem to be, however, is a true "Kane" story. Don't miss this tale though!
Final Score: 88/100