Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Karl Edward Wagner's The Road of Kings

 Introduction: Karl Edward Wagner (B: December 12, 1945; D: October 13, 1994) is most famous for his own Sword & Sorcery hero, Kane; however, he was a great friend to Conan of Cimmeria. 1976, saw the publication of Wagner's Legion from the Shadows, a pastiche featuring the REH character Bran Mak Morn. In 1977, being a harsh critic of L. Sprague de Camp's editing and re-writes of classic Robert E. Howard tales, Wagner edited three volumes of Conan stories for Berkley Press: The Hour of the Dragon, The People of the Black Circle and Red Nails. These three volumes were pure REH with no rewrites. Between the years 1978 to 1982, Bantam Books published seven volumes of Conan pastiche. Volume four being The Road of Kings by Karl Edward Wagner.

The Skinny on the plot (spoilers free): A young Conan is rescued from a hanging by a band of outlaws that are allied with a revolutionary group calling themselves the White Rose. The White Rose are plotting a revolution to overthrow the despot ruler of Zingara. The revolution occurs with unexpected results with the help of a mysterious Stygian sorcerer. That is as much as I will tell you, and I foreshadow my summary here: find this book and read it!

The Good: KEW's description of the Pit is excellent. The Pit is a section of Zingara that ravished by earthquakes has sunken beneath the level of the rest of the city. It cycled all sorts of kewl ideas in my gamer mind. Wagner tells a fast paced tale that pulls you along. His created characters are interesting and well developed. 

The Bad: While Wagner's depiction of Conan didn't give me fits, I couldn't help thinking that his characterization of Kane seems more "Conanesque" then his Conan. This isn't enough though to keep me from highly recommending this book to fans of good Conan pastiche. 

The Ugly: Karl Edward Wagner was a great writer. If you haven't read his Kane stories, I highly encourage you to do so; however, they are a rare find and are often expensive to purchase when they are found. Unfortunately, this is the only Conan pastiche written by the late great Karl Edward Wagner.


Charles R. Rutledge said...

Let's try that again. I'd put The Road of Kings in my top five Conan pastiches. Wagner had a feel for heroic fantasy that perhaps came closer to Robert E. Howard's sensibilities than any other writer. Anyone who enjoys Road of Kings should seek out Wagner's horror fiction and of course, the Kane books. And even if they own the Wandering Star Conans, the three Berkeley books that Wagner edited are worth having for Wagner's introductions and notes alone.

Mike D. said...

I agree , with REH you knew what Conan was thinking (which is what KEW picked up on)...not being told in narrative what he was doing as so many other writers missed the whole perception of the character. BUT that does not mean...that other writers did bad jobs on their pastiches. Sean Moore had it down too. By the way...Kilsern's first two post's here on CROM are friggin' interesting and topical and I love that he's come aboard to help broaden our horizons.

Charles R. Rutledge said...

Yeah, getting Conan's mindset down is often a problem for writers. I liked some of John Maddox Robert's Conan books, but after Wagner my favorites are Poul Anderson and John Hocking. And yes, Kilsern is doing a fine job.

abdul666 said...

Read long ago, forgot most. Several great names of sword and sorcery contributed to the Conan pastiches series, rarely with memorable results. Though imho the worst pastiche of all is an "official" one, Carter's Conan of the Isles.
On the other hand, with a few names changed, Gardner F. Fox's Kothar series (specially the first and best one, Kothar: Barbarian Swordsman) would make more than average Conan pastiches.

Kilsern said...

@Abdul666, I am a fan of Gardner Fox's Kothar and Kyrik stories. I will have to dig them up soon for a re-read.