Although some argue that "The Shadow Kingdom" is the first Sword and Sorcery story ever published, I'm not sure that I agree. In my opinion, the earlier Solomon Kane stories could also be classified as belonging in this genre, the only real difference being a historical background rather than a fictional one. As fans of Howard already know, King Kull is sort of a prototype of Conan, and to be honest, by and large the stories are not as good as the Conan ones. Still, there are a lot a jewels here.
"The Shadow Kingdom" is, in my opinion, the obvious standout, and it should have been the basis for the ill conceived Kevin Sorbo fiasco. Kull battles a race of serpent men who can assume human form and have infiltrated all levels of society.
"By This Ax I Rule" was never published during Howard's lifetime, and was rewritten as the first Conan story, "The Phoenix on the Sword", which is also a better story in my opinion. The climactic fight scene, which is virtually the same in both versions, is trademark Howard: extreme graphically described violence and headlong action at a breakneck pace. That's one of the things that makes Howard's stories so fun to read over and over; they thrill you on a purely visceral level. When it comes to writing an exiciting action scene, Howard has no peers, past or present.
One of the most enigmatic things about the character Kull, which Howard never clarifies, is his asexuality. Kull has no interest in the opposite sex at all. Is he a virgin? Howard seems to be saying that he is. Why? Howard never explains. Anyone who has read the Conan stories knows that his sexual prowess is almost as legendary as his prowess with a broadsword. Why is such a manly character as Kull, so full of testoterone, so disinterested. I was hoping that the editor would give his thoughts on the subject, but he says very little about it.
The artwork is spectacular. I hope that they'll be releasing a deluxe full color edition in the future, but Wandering Star is now already a year behind on releasing "Conan of Cimmeria volume 3", which leads one to wonder about the financial health of this publishing house.
All and all, this is a good read for the casual fan Sword and Sorcery, and an essential addition to the serious Howard collector's library of works. I'm withholding giving it 5 stars simply because the latter Conan stories are so much better.
- ISBN-10: 0937986755
- ISBN-13: 978-0937986752
- Package Dimensions: 23.2 x 16.7 x 2.8 cm
- Boxed-product Weight: 717 g
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