Sunday, January 4, 2009

Bloodstone - Karl Edward Wagner

Part of the intro says what you need to know about this book:

"In the dark swamp where the toadmen croak and cower, slumbers a secret relic of the days when creatures from the stars ruled the Earth. In the booty captured in a savage raid, Kane discovers a ring, a bloodstone, which is key to the power that lies buried, inactive but not dea, within the forest."

Kane has taken up with an ordinary bunch of bandits who take out a caravan partially successfully, and with it have loot. Kane sees a ring that arouses his sorcerous instincts, and says he'd like that for his share of the spoils, and will give anything else away. The leader of the band thinks Kane is onto a good thing so disagrees. Not such bright bandits, as mentioned.

Time for a change of scenery for Kane, as he goes in search of the alien base and power source.

"One of the men who had moved somewhat ahead gave a sudden yell. “Damn! Here’s one of them ugly things now! Hiding inside that mess of vines!” With a howl he retreated as a spear streaked past his chest.

Rising from the swamp itself, a band of Rillyti menaced them from the trail ahead—more than a dozen of the batrachian creatures. Over a head taller than a man they stood, with squat body far broader than any human trunk. Long spindly arms and thick bandy legs ended alike in splayed, webbed appendages—black claws arming the lengthy phalanges. A mottled hide of wart and scale, hued an unwholesome yellow, brown and green after the swamp slime, covered their hairless bodies. Gnarled plates like armor spread across bowed back and barrel chest, stretched a sickly yellow over gross belly. A toad’s head rose from wide shoulders, wattles and throat pouch, obscuring whatever neck supported it. They had lidless slit-pupiled eyes, gaping nostril pits, outsize lipless jaws rimmed with yellow vomerine fangs. These were grotesque, hideous creatures whose powerful, twisted forms echoed the malignant deadliness of Kranor-Rill. As they rose from hiding, black swamp water and gobbets of scum dripped from their hide and rubbery neck crests and glistened evilly on the long blades of bronze alloy that gleamed from webbed hands."


Now, as far as sword and sorcery goes, it doesn't get too much better than this: -

"“Come on, you swamp rats!” he roared, swinging his sword in a short flourish. “I’ll show you how to gig toads!”

Kane rushed forward and almost was split in half by the first Rillyti to meet him. The instantaneous lunge of its thick legs launched the creature straight against Kane’s charge, golden blade swinging downward as it bounded over the mud in a twelve-foot arc. Twisting desperately on the slippery footing, Kane evaded the impetus of its attack by a hairbreadth, and his blade of Carsultyal steel shivered against the bronze. The sword shrieked with a shock that numbed his shoulder, echoed through clenched teeth, but the power of his arm turned aside the onrushing blade. The Rillyti staggered as its lunge was checked, and before it could recover, Kane’s weapon caught it across fist-sized eyes, topping the crested skull. With hoarse shouts his men leaped past the convulsing corpse.

“Their blood’s red enough! Come on!” yelled Kane, a wild peal of laughter rising in his throat. And the swamp-strangled causeway writhed in chaotic, inhuman battle.

Evading the flailing death agony of the Rillyti, Kane turned to meet a second attack. A leaf-tipped spear jabbed for his belly, as the bufanoid feinted with its sword. Kane twisted away with feral grace, guarding the creature’s blade with his own, and snatched at the spearshaft with his right hand. He meant to tear the weapon from his opponent’s grip, but to Kane’s dismay this stratagem had been foreseen. The shaft was coated with grease, and as the Rillyti jerked back, Kane’s hand slid toward the poison-smeared head, missing contact with the serrated edge by the barest margin, when Kane hastily flicked his fingers free.

Determinedly the batrachian thrust again with its spear, this time following through with its blade. Kane parried grimly and without breaking the flow of his attack dropped in a crouch to elude the spear. Straightening with a snap, his right arm uncoiled with the precision of a cracking whip, and the dagger that he had drawn from his boot sank beyond the hilt in a slit-pupiled eye. Croaking in pain, the Rillyti dropped its spear to tear the needle from its eyesocket in a spray of ichor, its convulsive gesture ripping a jagged wound through the orbit. His adversary mortally wounded, Kane relaxed a fraction and nearly joined the swamp creature in, hell. Toppling onto the mud, the Rillyti lashed out its sword with the last controlled effort of its dimming brain, and the swordtip sheared through the top of Kane’s boot as he hurriedly danced aside.

Kane also has an old acquaintance to deal with, not sure whether to drink, kiss or kill her, as she is sometimes with him, sometimes against him, and a deadly warrior:

"In a second the soldier would stop to think. But at the unexpected appearance of a seductive girl, he reacted automatically, without suspicion of danger. A smile starting to crease his features, he stepped through the doorway toward the girl. His hands reached for her.

Not giving him a second to reflect, Teres lunged with the sword. Its tip thrust through his heart, and the guard crumpled with a hoarse groan.

There were two guards. The other had stood on the side away from the half-opened door. He appeared in the doorway, even as Teres yanked back her blade to let his companion topple dying to the floor.

“What the hell!” he blurted. “What the hell!” His eyes took in the two corpses, the vengeful siren. For a stunned second he hesitated, his sword slowly rising, his throat contracting to shout alarm. Teres’s blade struck savagely. His head half flew from his shoulders as he fell across the doorway.

Treading over the prostrate forms, she stepped into the hallway warily, and thus evaded the rush of the third guard. The mercenary had waited down the hall, to waylay Dribeck with some feigned dilemma should he return prematurely. Their swords met with a clang that should have alarmed the entire citadel."

Even Kane, however, may be no match for alien technology that he doesn't fully understand and may just control him.

To quote John Jakes "A grand and gory banquet of swordplay, sorcery and super-science!"

What more could you want?

4.5 out of 5

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