Friday, 15 June 2012
'Night Winds' - Karl Edward Wagner
I really should have looked up the running order of the series, before getting into it, but sometimes it's a lot more fun to read books at random and see how they fit together. So it was then that I made my next 'Kane' read 'Night Winds' and it proved to be a good choice, being a collection of short stories that feel like they can be read on their own if you don't have the other books to hand.
What the reader gets with 'Night Winds' is a series of episodes from Kane's life, beginning in his early days (although he has already been around for centuries at this point) and heading through to, well... I don't know. There is a real timeless air to these stories that defies any attempt to place them within the timeline of the larger series. The only clue that we are given lies within comments about just how long Kane has been walking the earth. What are fairly recent memories to Kane are literally myth and legend to the people that he meets; that's the only clue you need about his age as it becomes really clear that Kane is practically immortal.
Being relatively short stories (the 'Night Winds' collection is only a hundred and seventy five pages long in the edition I have) you don't really get the chance to explore Kane's character in the way that you did in 'Dark Crusade'. Each story has that same air of darkness surrounding it though. Kane lives in troubled times (mostly because of his own actions) where a strong sword arm, and no morals at all, is all that you need to take whatever you want and make it your own. It's interesting to see Kane fight against this attitude, even more so when the fight is done and you realise just why Kane set himself against the status quo. Kane can show some measure of humanity, surprising for someone who has lived long enough to have lost it all, that mostly serves to show him as an anti-hero but can also sometimes send a story spiralling off in a different direction entirely.
Not all the stories worked for me but one thing that all of them did do was to keep me reading; mostly to see what Kane would do (here's a clue, it's mostly bloody and he's the last one standing by the end) but also for that dark atmosphere. A world so cruel that it shouldn't exist but a world that endures anyway. I don't fancy your chances of finding a cheap copy of 'Night Winds' but certainly give the book a go if you do come across it. It's pulp fantasy with an edge that demands your attention.
The stories within 'Night Winds' are...
'Undertow' proves to be an apt tale to kick off proceedings as it takes place in the city of Carlsultyal, a city out of the antiquity of Kane's world. It makes for interesting reading then, especially when we are given clues at how long Kane has already lived by this point. The story itself hints at how badly Kane is dealing with his immortality at this point, with tragic consequences (for one character) that we never see coming. Kane will do anything to make the long years worth living, regardless of what it means for anyone else.
'Two Suns Setting'
One of the more straightforward of the tales on offer with Kane raiding an underground tomb to aid his giant companion. What's interesting though is the campfire conversations where they discuss humanity's emerging place in the world, all at the expense of their giant forefathers. Is it right that humankind should claim dominance (just because they breed more rapidly) after giantkind has done all the hard work? Of course it isn't fair but that's just the way the world is, something Wagner shows us all too well.
'The Dark Muse'
Considering I'm not a big fan of poetry, at all, it was surprising then that 'The Dark Muse' ended up being my favourite tale in the collection. The actual poetry didn't do anything for me, it was the journey into the mind of a poet (determined to capture his dark vision at any cost) that proved to be compelling. Couple this with a tale of demons stalking the ruins of an ancient city (picking off Kane's men one by one, like a forerunner of 'Predator') and 'The Dark Muse' delivers on all fronts.
Here's another strong story in that Wagner places Kane pretty much at death's door and then has him fighting a tenacious bounty hunter whilst trying to save the daughter he never knew he had. What I loved about 'Raven's Eyrie' is that Wagner shows just how capable Kane is without recourse to magic. Everything that happens is down to either Kane's ingenuity or sheer blind luck and it adds an edge to the tale that the others don't have. Definitely worth re-reading.
I wasn't really sure what to think of this tale. I loved the twist at the end, another one that shows just how long Kane has been around, but the rest of the tale just felt like it was going by the numbers. Here's Kane, here's some people who want to kill him, lets have a big fight. 'Lynortis Reprise' felt like a bit of a let down after some very strong stories beforehand...
'Sing a last Song of Valdese'
The last story in the book hardly features Kane at all and this makes his eventual entrance, on the penultimate page, all the more powerful when it finally happens. The actual story is a little too predictable for my tastes though. There's a lovely 'Haunted Inn' atmosphere going on here but it means you can see what's coming a way off. Perhaps not the best tale to sign off the collection on then...
A mixed bag then but enough with atmosphere and character to balance things out overall. Worth a look if you happen to chance upon a copy...
Eight and a Half out of Ten