Here we are again; another installment of Dangerous Dan's Book Reviews, because after all, you can only hide from the law in a brothel for so long before the girls start demanding payment for services rendered.
Today I'll be reviewing a short story entitled Kings of the Night by the one and only Robert E. Howard. Kings of the Night can be found in both Kull: Exile of Atlantis and Bran Mak Morn: The Last King. That's because it stars both of the title characters.
"How can that be?" you ask. Kull lived in an age before the ocean drank Atlantis and Bran Mak Morn lives in England around the time the Romans came. The answer is simple: Magic. Kings of the Night is also a rarity among Howard's stories because there isn't a single monster in it.
Kull was a swords and sorcery character Howard created a few years before Conan and it shows, both in terms of concept and writing. Not to say the writing is bad. It isn't. It's just not as polished as Howard's later work. That being said, Howard's prose compared to other fantasy is like drinking your first bottle of Guinness after a lifetime of light beer. Where was I? Oh yeah, Kull. Kull is a barbarian who became a king and struggles between his savage ways and the statecraft involved in managing a kingdom.
Bran Mak Morn is the last king of the Picts, a savage people who were great allies of Kull's kingdom of Valusia thousands of years before Bran's time. When we catch up to Bran Mak Morn, the Picts have declined almost to the point of extinction. Bran's not all that different from Kull except that he knows that his fight against the Roman occupation is a losing battle.
A nigh-immortal Pictish sorcerer brings Kull to the future, convincing him he's dreaming in the process. Kull plays along with the sorcerer and soon ends up in command of a band of Norsemen against the Romans.
Before this story was published, Howard told his contemporary, H.P. Lovecraft, that it contained the best battle scene he'd written up to that point. Howard was right and it might be the best mass battle in fantasy ever written. This thing is Braveheart-violent once things get rolling. The tactics are written with a flair that keeps them from becoming boring but then how could you get bored with limbs being hacked off and a band of Picts and Vikings going up against colossal odds?
Until next time, keep your powder dry and your guns loaded.