King Of The Bastards by Stephen Shrewsbury and Brian Keene (book review)
‘King Of The Bastards’ falls into the sword & sorcery bracket. The one with big men with big muscles and big swords fighting wizards. It is a bit of an odd book in terms of its construction as before you get to the Prologue there is a ‘What has gone before’ section. This is titled as an excerpt from the ‘Book Of The Yidde-oni’ but is the only bit we see of this mysterious tome. It provides a brief biography of Rogan who’s the principal character of the story being the actual King of the Bastards. The Prologue sets the scene where a father gathers his children together to tell them the story of Rogan. We don’t know the man’s name at this stage but we do know they are on board a ship sailing the very ocean that Rogan sailed years ago.
The main story starts with Rogan aboard a ship battling to land a rather large fish. He’s at least 60 years old and has abdicated from the rule of Albion giving the crown to his son, Rohain. He might be getting on in years but Rogan still has the muscle to land the fish. But there’s no rest for the old chap as he’s now attacked by a sea monster and then corsairs in very quick succession. There’s quite a lot of death and destruction wherever Rogan goes.
Rogan and his trusty nephew, Javan, manage to make landfall on a strange island inhabited by a strange folk. The first thing they have to do is kill a large bear before they get to meet the locals. These poor souls have various levels of physical deformities caused by the workings of an evil magician who lives at the top of the islands mountain. After a quick slaughter of some zombies they make their way to the local village.
Now at this point, I should point out that Rogan has started to get visions of what is happening back home in Albion and it’s not good. It seems that one of Rogan’s illegitimate children has arrived and set about taking over, slaughtering as many as possible as he goes. For Rogan to get home and help his besieged family, he needs the island’s local people to help him repair and crew his ship. To do that, he must first defeat the wizard and his army at the top of the mountain.
At various places in the story, there is mention of a Thirteen who must not be named. These appear to be remnants of another species possibly from another dimension. It’s not fully explained which could be said for a few elements of the story. I kept getting the feeling that I’d missed out on earlier stories and didn’t have all the background information. Having said that, the story is a bit predictable and the obvious thing to do would be to compare Rogan to ‘Conan The Barbarian’. There are some strikingly obvious similarities. For example, Rogan has Wodan as his uncaring god while Conan had Crom. One difference is Rodan swears a lot. Most of the time, actually.
‘King Of The Bastards’ is quite a short novel and, while Rodan completes his current quest, the ending leaves the big issues revealed by Rogan’s visions unresolved. It’s sort of a non-ending really, which will either leave you feeling disappointed or prompt you to get the next instalment. For me, while the Thirteen may have potential to be something special, there wasn’t enough information to be sure. That leaves me to say there wasn’t enough in King of the Bastards to distinguish it from other heroic barbarian stories.
(pub: Apex Publications. 162 page ebook. Price: $ 6.99 (US), £ 3.84 (UK). ISBN: 979-1-937009-32-8)
check out websites: www.apexbookcompany.com/ and www.apexbookcompany.com/products/king-of-the-bastards