Darkness Weaves introduces a character named Kane, who is
best described by some fans as the very best elements of Robert E. Howard’s
Conan and Michael Moorcock’s Elric of Melnibone. On page 163 of this 292-page
paperback, Kane’s murky origin tale is told.
“Kane was one of the first true men - born into a hostile
world of strange ancient beings. In this dawn world of humanity, Kane defied
the insane god who had created his race – an experiment that had turned out far
from the creator’s expectations. This demented elder god dabbled at creating a
race of mindless creatures whose only existence would be to amuse and delight
him. He almost succeeded, until Kane rebelled against this stifling paradise
and spurred the young race to independent will. He killed his own brother, who
sought to oppose his heresy, thus bringing violent death as well as rebellion
to the infant mankind. Disgusted at the failure of his depraved design, the god
abandoned his creation. And for his act of defiance, Kane was cursed with
immortality – doomed to roam this world under the shadow of violence and death.”
Without giving too much of the story away, the general
premise is that two men track down Kane in a coffin-filled, rain-drenched cave
to make a proposal. An island federation known as the Thovnosian Empire is
ruled by a monarch named Maril. There’s a backstory of family relations and
betrayal that led to Maril torturing and supposedly killing his wife Effrel
after she had an affair with his nephew. But the horribly mutilated wife secretly
survived and is now preparing an awesome military campaign to crush Maril and
take over the empire.
Kane has a connection to this empire because they formed the
federation to defeat him. In his early buccaneering days, Kane ravished these
island coasts with his army of cutthroat pirates. So, who better to lead Effrel’s
navy fleet than Kane? If Kane accepts the job, his reward will be a hand in the
spoils of war – his own island kingdom. But, Kane secretly is planning on helping
Effrel win the war so he can eventually overthrow her.
This is an epic book despite its rather short length of less
than 400-pages. Wagner sets the table with some world building while also
presenting histories for the major characters that make up the two warring factions.
While there is plenty of action, readers do need to exercise patience while the
author builds to the grand finale. There are numerous side-plots featuring
characters involved with each other, fighting with one another, spying on the campaigns,
and ultimately betraying family and friends in a quest for greed. The violence
is gore-soaked and barbaric, but nothing extremely graphic or disturbing.
Additionally, Wagner’s writing is a mix of fantasy and
sword-and-sorcery. There’s a Lovecraft-like dark fiction etched into the finer details
of the plot, mainly how Effrel has a secret alliance with an other-worldly
cosmic horror. This part of the story involves sacrifices, pentagrams, body-swapping,
and tentacles – lots of tentacles.
Darkness Weaves is one of the very best sword-and-sorcery novels I’ve read. While soaked in all of the 1970s weirdness, it still has a unique literary escapism that reaches Shakespeare-styled revenge-drama. Wagner is an incredible writer that doesn’t give too much away with his style and presentation. I can’t wait to read even more of these Kane novels and short stories.
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