Book Review: Bloodstone by Karl Edward Wagner

The first Kane the Wanderer book. Kane is a ruthless and amoral killer cursed with immortality. He spends his time seeking power, pleasure, and trying to soothe his relentless ennui. Bloodstone sees him on a quest to unearth terrifying eldritch might, which comes in the form of the titular Bloodstone, a seemingly magical ring that turns out to be much more. The book is very obviously inspired by Maturin’s Melmoth the Wanderer. Kane is mostly a mysterious figure who impacts the lives of others, and has relatively few POV scenes. The main character is really Kane’s enemy-turned-lover-turned-enemy again, a woman called Teres. One of the coolest fantasy heroines I’ve encountered, Teres the ‘she-wolf’ is a kind of super tomboy who’s been raised to succeed her father, king of a violent patriarchal society. She falls for Kane, then stands against him when his demented quest for power becomes an obvious threat to all human life.

Verdict – this book is very good, almost great. Kane and Teres are awesome characters. Unfortunately a lot of the more minor characters are a bit beige and forgettable, except for Teres’ father. There are some really tense and exciting moments, mostly featuring Teres, who as a mere mortal is more vulnerable than Kane. The dialogue is more naturalistic than that in the Elric or Conan stories for example, but is still a bit too ornate and stylized, and often sounds exactly like the narrator’s prose. Some of the monsters are very cool, especially the undead creatures brought back by Bloodstone, which, after being chopped apart, re-form themselves into hybrid horrors. Unfortunately some of the battle scenes become boring due to an abundance of holistic descriptions. Which just goes to show that battle scenes are almost always better when told from a specific POV. There is a lot of stuff about political and military maneuvering which also gets a bit boring, mostly because one of the main characters is exceedingly bland. Can’t even remember his name. The baddy – Bloodstone – is basically an eldritch Lovecraft-type monster with a twist – he’s an alien supercomputer that has self-awareness and wants to team up with his buddies to take over the cosmos. The plot is grand and far-reaching, but the story is actually at its best and most compelling when it’s not being epic at all. The best moments deal with simpler, more intimate situations. Which just goes to show that a story, no matter how grand, always has to foreground the intimate lives of its heroes, down to all the gritty details.