Thursday, March 02, 2017

Stealer of Flesh - William King

I know William King primarily as an author for the Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 lines of epic fantasy and science fiction, although I haven't read any of his work for them. But he's also written quite a bit in universes of his own, including a sword-and-sorcery series about a warrior/priest (a Guardian of the Dawn) named Kormak. The first book in this series, STEALER OF FLESH, is a series of four linked novellas: "The Demon Unleashed", "The Wolves of War", "The Flesh Stealer", and "That Way Lies Death". In his notes on the collection, King discusses how as a young man he was a reader and fan of the sword-and-sorcery tales of Robert E. Howard, Fritz Leiber, Michael Moorcock, and others, especially the way so many of the stories by those authors were novellas instead of the enormous doorstop trilogies and endless series that passes for heroic fantasy these days. He set out to write something similar, and STEALER OF FLESH is the result. I can certainly see the influence of those authors in these yarns.

In the first story, "The Demon Unleashed", a nobleman takes Kormak prisoner and uses his sword, which has some limited sorcerous abilities, to free a demon known as a Ghul that has been trapped for centuries. Feeling at least partially responsible for the Ghul being loosed on the world, Kormak pursues it as it takes over various hosts and vows to destroy it. In "The Wolves of War" he encounters werewolves being used as a military force. "The Flesh Stealer" is set in the squalid criminal underworld of a big city. "That Way Lies Death" takes Kormak and several companions he's picked up along the way to a lost city in the desert for a final showdown with the Ghul.

The world in which all this takes place seems to be based, not surprisingly, on ancient Europe and Asia. King establishes some history in broad strokes and sets up an eternal clash between the west, which worships the god of the sun, and the east, which worships the gods of the moon. It's pretty easy to pick out the analogs to our own world, but to give King credit, he never dwells much on such things. They're just there as background to stories full of sorcery and swordplay.

To be honest, this book could have used another copyediting pass. But I'm willing to cut King some slack for that simply because these stories really are throwbacks to the sword-and-sorcery yarns of an earlier era and are lean and fast-moving instead of bloated and never-ending. I can easily imagine myself sitting on my parents' front porch reading a Lancer paperback of this book, and anything that can make me feel like that is well worth reading, as far as I'm concerned. Hey, I can edit those typos in my head and just keep right on going. King has written a number of full-length novels featuring Kormak, and I have the next few already on my Kindle, ready to go. If you're a fan of old-school sword-and-sorcery, STEALER OF FLESH is worth a try.


Howard Jones said...

King is a real talent, and I love the Kormak stories. Him and at least a few other Warhammer authors are really, really underappreciated sword-and-sorcery masters. Clint Werner's Brunner tales and Nathan Long's Blackhearts ought to be read by ANY real fan of sword-and-sorcery, but I'm afraid they, and King, are overlooked because of the Warhammer connection.

James Reasoner said...

I have all of Werner's Warhammer books but haven't read any of them yet. I did read a novella by him set in another gaming universe that I liked. I read the first Blackhearts novel and liked it a lot but never got back to the others for some reason. Also have all of King's Gotrek and Felix novels and his Warhammer 40K books. Too many books I want to read!

Howard Jones said...

As for Werner, I'd start with the Brunner stories. Branch out from there. I like King's later Gotrek stuff better than the first stuff, when he was first getting his feet wet, but I like his more seasoned Kormak stuff better.

Those three guys know and celebrate sword-and-sorcery and yet bring new things to it. It might be that there are some other Warhammer authors who have done the same, but I haven't read much deeper into the franchise.

Keith West said...

You had me at the comparison to Robert E. Howard. I've got the Brunner omnibus but haven't had a chance to read it yet. I liked the first to Felix and Gotrek stories I read.

Jason said...

Werner's Brunner is badass and terrific fun reading. Clint's short stories are also grand s&s adventure. I've read and enjoyed 2 King Kormak tales, always mean to get back to them.