I don’t always read sword and sorcery novels, but when I do I want them blood splattered, magic filled, politically incorrect, testosterone fantasies that would make the American Civil Liberties Union attorneys immediately file suits against the authors if they ever read them.
Well, with King of the Bastards, I got my wish.
The main character in this homage to the pulp classics of yesteryear is Rogan, an aged barbarian king, who has given his throne to his son and headed west across the ocean in search of adventure. Accompanying him is his nephew, Javan, who is more culturally advanced than his uncle but still a man not to be overlooked.
To say our hero Rogan is portrayed here as a mighty barbarian warrior isn’t really doing him justice.
Conan asks him how to be a barbarian.
His enemies go ahead and cut their own throats when they see Rogan coming.
Rogan has crossed the point of no return — on numerous occasions.
His only real opponent is himself, and Rogan kicked his own ass!
I could go on, but you get the point: this is a dude you don’t want to mess with.
But some people aren’t very smart, and before Rogan and Javan can go very far on their western excursion, conflict finds them. Monsters, pirates, zombies, wizards, demons, and even a god from another dimension all take turns attacking our aged barbarian. The cursing and fighting ensue fast and furious as each enemy tries to take Rogan down, but while his mighty sinews hold his enemies back with powerful sword strokes, he also is busy espousing classic insults. My favorites being when Rogan kills a guy claiming to be his son and says “If he was a product of my loins . . . [well] Every man can have an off night, Javan.” Or when a female characters calls him a pig, Rogan immediately replies, “And do you ever lay with pigs? If so, come here and attend to me.”
Now those were some pretty politically incorrect statements. And it is just a taste of the hyper masculine Rogan, who cares nothing about offending everyone’s sensibilities . . . because he is a barbarian. What the hell does he know or care about civilized behavior? Nothing I tell you, and I for one loved the sword and sorcery mayhem — even if it did get a bit repetitive.
Yes, you did read that last part right. I said it got repetitive, and I stand by that. I mean, I love blood-coated combat in a fantasy, but I still prefer it interspersed with enough non-fighting to trick me into thinking something other than killing people is actually going on. And while Keene and Shrewsbury tried to accomplish just that with a few introspective moments and the foreshadowing of future conflicts, it just wasn’t extensive enough for my tastes.
Even with said criticism though, I readily hail this as the most delicious, abrasive, kickass sword and sorcery novel I’ve read in a long time. No, it won’t be for everyone. Yes, some will be offended by Rogan’s “barbaric” behavior. But then again, Rogan could care less because he’d be happy to show us his feminine side — if God had given him one.