Review of “Midnight Sun” by Karl Edward Wagner

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Midnight Sun is an excellent collection of the complete short stories of the sword and sorcery/dark fantasy hero Kane, and I was fortunate to snatch it up for $90 on Amazon, and believe me, that’s pretty damn cheap compared to what some are asking for it. Unfortunately, it didn’t come with the dust jacket featuring the superb art of Ken Kelly, but you win some, you lose some, I guess. I just feel fortunate to both have the Kane novel omnibus, “Gods In Darkness,” AND the short story collection.
Here’s a brief synopsis of each story within:

“Undertow”- A brash but tough young sea captain aspires to rescue a damsel in distress from Kane’s sorcerous clutches, but is said damsel all that she seems?

“Two Suns Setting”- Kane aids one of the last of the giants in a quest to take a legendary crown from the crypt of a long-dead king of his race.

“The Dark Muse”- The Mad Poet Opyros seeks Kane’s help to alleviate the writer’s block that plagues him on his latest masterpiece. But will the pact with the dark forces Kane puts into motion demand too high a price?

“Sing a Last Song of Valdese”- A group of strangers meet in an inn and listen to a terrifying tale of how a chaos sorcerer and his lover were brutally murdered, and how their spirits still sek revenge.

“Misericorde”- Kane is hired to take down a particularly nasty family of royal usurpers.

“Lynortis Reprise”- Kane joins a band of old mercenary comrades to search for a cache of gold in a city ruined by warfare.

“Raven’s Eyrie”- Kane learns a life-changing secret at a run-down old inn on the much-feared night of the Demonlord’s Moon.

“Reflections for the Winter of My Soul”- Kane discovers a loathsome, monstrous horror while taking shelter from a blizzard in a mysterious castle.

“Cold Light”- A relentless paladin fanatic and his band of cutthroats set out on a mission to destroy Kane.

“Mirage”- Kane is led into the clutches of a seductive, beautiful vampire.

“The Other One”- Kane tells a tale of how he implemented the fall of one of the first cities of men.

“The Gothic Touch”- Elric and Moonglum and Kane cross universes to search for a valuble tresure.

“Lacunae”- A modern tale of Kane where he becomes the manufacturer of a dangerous narcotic.

“Deep in the Depths of the Acme Warehouse”- A rock musician is offered a curious piece of Elvis memorabilia by Kane, and gets more than what she bargained for.

“At First Just Ghostly”- A popular English horror writer has the veil taken off his eyes by Kane of just what is taking place in this world, and the truth is not pretty.

In all of these stories, we get a look at Kane through the ages as a wandering, cursed immortal, doomed for killing his brother a mad, tyrannical god, until he dies by the same violence he perpetuated. From the dawn of man to the modern day, the tapestry is unfolded. We get to see Kane at his most evil, and at his most heroic. He is an antihero, neither wholly good nor evil, but a thousand shades of gray.
I found all of the stories to be superb, save two; “Lacunae” and “Deep in the Depths of the Acme Warehouse.” Now some of you may just accuse me of not liking Kane in the modern day setting, but you couldn’t be more wrong, because I find the last tale that follows those two, “At First Just Ghostly” to be one of the finest pieces of urban dark fantasy ever written. No, it is because those two stories are tasteless, psychotic erotica with no point other than just to be grotesque. I honestly don’t know what Karl Edward Wagner was thinking when he wrote these two. Maybe he was suffering intenself from the alcoholism that eventually killed him when he wrote them, I don’t know. But compared to all the others collected in this volume, they are trash.
That being said, the other tales shine brilliantly as pieces of sword and sorcery/dark fantasy. It’s too bad that these stories and the three novels “Bloodstone,” “Dark Crusade” and “Darkness Weaves” are all that Karl wrote about Kane before the bottle took his life. He truly was a great character created by a truly great writer. The essay included in this volume, entitled “The Once and Future Kane” gives insight into where Wagner got his ideas, creativity and motivations. All in all, a great read.
I give “Midnight Sun” by Karl Edward Wagner a 4.5 out of 5.

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