Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Book Review: Night Winds

Book Review: 'Night Winds' by Karl Edward Wagner

4 / 5 Stars

‘Night Winds’ (286 pp.) was published by Warner Books in August, 1978. The cover artwork is by Frank Frazetta.

These Warner paperback editions of the Kane stories are long out of print, and command high prices; I was fortunate to pick this volume up for $2 at the Gordon St. Library booksale in Charlottesville last April.

“Night Winds’ compiles six short stories and novelettes first published from 1974 – 1977 in small press magazines such as Midnight Sun, Chacal, and Whispers.

All of the stories display purple prose and stilted conversations – Wagner was at heart a pulp writer. However, they are atmospheric, offbeat, and Kane stands firm as a distinctive type of antihero throughout each and every tale.

My concise summaries of the stories:

Undertow (1977): Probably the most poorly-written of the entries; Kane’s mistress enlists various soldiers of fortune and adventurers in an effort to help her flee from Kane's grasp.

Two Suns Setting (1975): wandering through a desolate, rubble-strewn landscape, Kane embarks on an adventure to find the ancient resting place of the King of the Giants. This is one of the better stories in the anthology.

The Dark Muse (1975): Opyros the Poet is desperate to write the best poem of his career; Kane obliges by assisting the poet to enter into a dangerous, but otherworldly, dream-world. A reasonably good mix of Lovecraftian ‘Randolph Carter’ – style adventure, and some more conventional sword-and-sorcery tropes.

Raven’s Eyrie (1977): On the run and in desperate straits, Kane and his band of cut-throats seek refuge in a decrepit inn. As night falls on the surrounding wilderness, the Lord of the Dead emerges from the depths of the Earth and stalks the night for victims. This story’s downbeat tenor and lively action sequences make it effective.

Lynortis Reprise (1974): Amidst the crumbling ruins and decay of a long-ago battlefield, Kane competes with a band of mercenaries to learn the location of a rumored hoard of treasure. Another tale marked by a cynical atmosphere, and a carefully crafted sense of allegory about war and madness; a theme not uncommon in fiction of the post- Vietnam era.

Sing A Last Song of Valdese (1976): A cold Autumn evening in the remote highlands; a priest finds himself forced to seek lodging for the night in a hotel filled with fellow travelers. As the night unfolds, criminals, and the consequences of an atrocity committed long, long ago, are revealed. More of a horror story than a sword-and-sorcery adventure, ‘Valdese’ is arguably the best of all the Kane tales.

Summing up, ‘Night Winds’ is a worthy collection of vintage fantasy / sword-and-sorcery fiction. Provided you can find a copy for a reasonable price, it’s worth searching out.

1 comment:

MPorcius said...

I remember thinking the first Kane thing I read, the novel Bloodstone, was pretty bad, overwritten and way too long and unfocused, but enjoying most of the later Kane stories.

And I love Wagner's horror story "Sticks."