Robert E. Howard
Solomon Kane (C) (1995)
(with Ramsey Campbell)
The Robert E. Howard Library Vol. III
A hint: don't read Howard immediately after a book by Egan. Constantly thinking "how could anybody come up with this kind of nonsense?" quickly spoils the experience.
Solomon Kane is an English Puritan, a contemporary of Sir Francis Drake. A "tall, gaunt man", with a "darkly pallid face and deep brooding eyes", a master of the rapier, this righteous adventurer battles evil in tales of gore and superstition, of black magic, ghastly creatures, and lost cities. The plots are straightforward: Kane sees or has seen or remembers an act of gruesome injustice, Kane single-mindedly tracks down the villain(s), Kane meets and kills the villain(s). There is the occasional twist when a villain doesn't succumb to Kane too easily. We learn little about his motivation other than his fanatic determination "to right all wrongs, protect all weaker things, avenge all crimes against right and justice". Fortunately there is never a question about the morality of the parties involved, and thus Kane travels through Europe and Africa, with references to other continents as well, slaying along the way pirates and slavers, sorcerers, vampires and harpies, ghosts and unspeakable horrors from the dim past.
I have never yet done a man to death by torture, but by God, sir, you tempt me!
Ramsey Campbell has written a short introduction, among other things shedding some light on the probable internal chronology of the stories. Campbell has also lent his talent to finishing three uncompleted pieces. I assume it was an honest attempt, but the results don't ring true and don't capture the skill of the old master. It would have been more respectful to Howard's heritage if the fragments had been simply included as such.
Howard may have been the star of the pulps, but nowadays it's trash. To a modern reader, the talk of inferior and superior "races" is disconcerting. Typically for Howard, women hardly appear and with the exception of a blood-thirsty queen only as squealing victims. Victorian? It certainly helps to read the stories with the mindset of a 16th century conquistador reveling in his European male superiority. The only thing going for Solomon Kane is Howard's usual invigorating writing style and the satisfaction of an attack of nostalgia.
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