If you enjoy a good barbarian story, and who doesn’t, then you might want to check out the latest from Angeline Hawkes. While most of her recent work is in the field of horror, she makes the occasional foray into the realms of fantasy, often giving us another exploit of her barbarian character, Kabar of El Hazzar. All the stories so far have been collected in this volume.
These are pseudohistorical fantasies that may or may not take place in our world. Some of the references to historical places and peoples, such as Nineveh or Hebrews, would incline one to think so. But then there are references to all sorts of places that never existed.
None of which is really relevant. What is, is the answer to the question, are the stories entertaining?
Yes, yes they are. The title story, also the longest in the book, is by far the most unusual, in that Kabar wanders into the Garden of Eden long after Adam and Eve have left. He finds it’s not uninhabited. The other eleven stories vary in length, with some being short stories and others novelettes or novellas.
The tone and plot vary, as well, from one story to the next. Although several have the same basic plot skeleton, that being Kabar must go and fight a monster to bring back a magic item to aid someone, the difference and enjoyment is in the details.
Kabar isn’t your typical Clonan. Whereas Conan is a wanderer with no family, Kabar places great importance on family in spite of his travels. In fact two of the stories don’t involve Kabar at all. “The Treasure of Their Destinies” is an adventure of Kabar’s brother Aeneas in which Kabar isn’t even mentioned that I noticed. This one reminded me of Sinbad. Kabar’s wife Adina has the starring role in “Sacrifice of the Utukki”. It’s in part this expanded cast that sets these stories apart from the pack of poor Robert E. Howard imitations.
That’s not the only thing different about this character. Kabar is noble and good, not the antihero that Conan sometimes is. He is more than willing to sacrifice or put himself at risk for those he cares about, whether they be friend or family. Of course, he’s not above keeping some gold for himself or ravishing a beautiful (and willing) woman (or goddess) if opportunity arises.
That’s not to say that Robert E. Howard doesn’t cast a long shadow over these tales. The author and her husband are former members of REHupa, after all. The action, swordplay, danger, and sorcery are all there. And the titles are worthy of Howard. “The Skull of Zondamar” (nice twist on the end of that one), “To Hunt a God”, “Upon This Forgotten Altar”, “The Bloody Spear of Nineveh”, and others sound like Howard titles.
I found this collection to be enjoyable and fun, a nice addition to my sword and sorcery library. The author’s website has a list of the stories in this series. On that list is a novel in progress. I’m keeping my eye out for it.