Skulls and Bones

Solomon Kane: Skulls in the Stars: written by Robert E. Howard and Ramsey Campbell containing the following stories: “Skulls in the Stars:, “The Right Hand of Doom”, “Red Shadows”, “Rattle of Bones”, “The Castle of the Devil”, “The Moon of Skulls”, “The One Black Stain”, “Blades of the Brotherhood.” (1928-1968; Collected 1979): Solomon Kane was Conan-creator Robert E. Howard’s 16th-century Puritan monster-fighter whose adventures ranged from the English moors to deepest, darkest, most fictional Africa, there not actually being a lot of vampire cities in real Africa. That we know of. Because Solomon Kane wiped them all out.

Unlike Conan, whose battles against evil came mostly came as a by-product of his battles for money and power, Kane intentionally sought out evil. Howard is already more canny at a young age (the Kane stories were all written before the age of 25) than many pulp writers ever are: there are a number of fascinating writerly observations about Kane’s personality throughout these tales, most of them about Kane’s non-self-aware fanaticism and its pros and cons when it comes to fighting evil.

Kane is obsessive, and his faith is unshakeable — and it often seems that that unshakeable faith brings powerful forces to his aid when he needs it. He can, however, fight his way out of almost any situation. And unlike Conan, he has the benefits of gunpowder and muskets.

Ramsey Campbell does a nearly seamless job of finishing up one Kane fragment (“The Castle of the Devil”) in this late 1970’s collection. The rest of the stories (and one poem) were finished by Howard himself, with the remaining Kane stories and fragments in a second volume. The adventures here aren’t quite as fantastic as those in the second volume. Kane fights ‘normal’ brigands in one story, while in another the foes are human and the help from an African magician the only magical part of the narrative.

Howard’s racism is noticeable throughout, though later stories set in Africa would make Africans much more sympathetic as Kane battled to save tribespeople from supernatural threats (again with the help of the canny African magician he first meets here). The action is involving, the portrayal of Kane fascinating, and the events sometimes move into the realm of the epic. Highly recommended.

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