Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Flesh to Shadow (The Kormak Saga Omnibus 1#) by William King review

    Have you ever just wanted to read a story about grim lone badass traveling from place to place, killing monsters, sleeping around, and making the occasional wise pronouncement? If so, I recommend you read the original Conan the Barbarian stories by Robert E. Howard. If you have already done so, then I recommend you read The Kormak Saga by William King as well as the Witcher novels by Andrjez Sapkowski.

    Flesh to Shadow contains the first three novels of William King's masterpiece: Stealer of Flesh, Defiler of Tombs, and Weaver of Shadow. It also contains a short story which proves  that even in a world of fantasy monsters who are purely evil, your biggest enemies are always your fellow humans. I'd explain what each novel was about but it's really the character of Kormak and his world which is worth discussing. Besides, don't you hate reviews which just summarize the novel and don't actually discuss anything within?

    The premise of the novels are following the titular character as he wanders from village-to-village hunting monsters. Kormak is a member of the Guardians, albeit not of the human race which rules his homeland but one of their subject peoples. The Guardians are effectively a combination of the Grey Wardens and Knight's Templar.

    They're officially a monastic order devoted to destroying evil but Kormak isn't particularly monk-like other than his obsessive devotion to his craft. Each of them is given a dwarven-made sword capable of slaying evil as well as tremendous amounts of training but their real benefit is the fact that if one Guardian falls, he will be replaced by two. The greatest advantage the Guardians have against monsters is they're almost all solitary while the *finger wag* good guys *finger wag* are able to team up against them.

    Kormak is a fairly popular archetype in the Sword and Sorcery genre with elements of Elric, Aragorn, The Man with No Name, Geralt, and Drizzt Do'Urden. These are more parallels than inspirations, though, as he's really an embodiment of the driven outsider than anything else. In a funny way, he's almost the perfect Dungeons and Dragons Paladin, it's just that being a good guy hasn't made him particularly nice or friendly.

    Kormak is devoted to his cause despite the fact that decades of service have made him cynical and obsessive. He can't do anything to improve a world riddled with poverty, superstition, war, and social strife so he focuses on doing the one thing he can do really well: killing monsters. Also, he doesn't seem to have any objection to sleeping with the surprisingly large number of women willing to throw themselves at the brooding stranger with an interesting job.

    The world Kormak inhabits is basically some weird fusion of the Hyborian Age and Middle Earth. This isn't me being facetious as William King says as much. Peter Jackson all but ruined the Hobbit by trying to treat a whimiscal story with epic gravitas but William King shows it's not so much the idea but the execution which suffered. Kormak's world is if you took all of the scary places like Mirkwood, the Spiders' lairs, Moria, and Mordor then stuck them to the decadent city states as well feuding nobles of Conan's world. It's a surprisingly good fit and one which makes the world appropriately brutal and cynical but still worth saving.

    The supporting cast for the book is also really good as all of the characters are well-developed, even those which end up only existing to become monster chow. I was especially fond of the Baroness, Petra, and the Twins. All of them are interesting in their own right and the tragic end to some of their stories brings real poignance to the tales within. Kormak, unlike Elric or Geralt, is just a man and doesn't always save the day or the people he comes to care about.

    I think William King might have done a bit better to replace the Orcs and Elves in the books with less traditional monsters. Maybe Beastmen, Formori, or Trollocs. Some readers will be put off by the use even though I think he does a better job with Tolkien-famous monsters than 99% of all authors. I also recommend this book because of the extensive notes given by the author at the end, which are a treasure trove of insights for both authors as well as fantasy fans.

    In conclusion, this is a great book and three times the value of most fiction I've bought for a similar price. Or more.


No comments:

Post a Comment