by Greg Keyes 



170pp/$13.95/April 2008

The Hounds of Ash
Cover by Julie Dixon

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

Greg Keyes’s character Fool Wolf, whose stories are collected in The Hounds of Ash,  is clearly an offspring of such barbarian heroes as Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd, Robert Howard’s Conan, or any number of creations by Clark Ashton Smith, with a hefty dose of Michael Moorcock’s Elric of Melniboné thrown into the mix. Not only does Fool Wolf share characteristics with those earlier heroes, but the manner in which he moves through his vaguely Lovecraftian world…throughout a series of semi-connected short stories…is reflective of the way in which those earlier authors created their characters.

Fool Wolf’s origin, the way in which he acquired the evil goddess Chugaachik, who lives within him, and his exile from his tribe, are glossed over, giving the reader only what is needed to explain why Fool Wolf wanders far from the lands of his tribe.  Similarly, although Keyes frequently refers to the chaos orchestrated on those rare occasions when Chugaachik frees herself from Fool Wolf’s control, he doesn’t show the carnage, only the aftermath. Although these techniques are distancing, they don’t adversely affect Keyes’s tales of Fool Wolf.

Those stories do form an overarching, although loose, continuum.  Some of the tales stand completely on their own, such as “Wakes the Narrow Forest,” which Keyes provides as an introduction to the character.  Others, like “The Fallen God” or “The Python King’s Treasure,” set the stage for later stories by introducing characters and situations which will recur. In some ways, these recurring characters are one of the week points of the story.  The relationship Keyes shows between, for instance, Fool Wolf and Inah makes her little more than a prop, there is not real chemistry between them.  This is also similar to many of the earlier writers, although style has progressed since then and in Keyes’s hands it is surprising to see.

Keyes’s writing style, however, is tailored for the modern reader’s sensibilities.  He is able to capture to essential eldritch quality of the traditional form of the stories without devolving into the purple prose that dates so many of the stories. Fool Wolf moves through this world, a part of it, but still an outcast. He isn’t driven by anything in particular, except a desire to rid himself of Chugaachik, although even that seems like an afterthought when it isn’t his main goal, as in the story “The Skin Witch.”

Just as space opera will never dies because of the sense of wonder it engenders, neither will the sword and sorcery genre disappear.  The Hounds of Ash is a strong modern example of the genre, allowing the intrusion of some of the weaknesses of the form, but overall suborning those weaknesses with the strength of Keyes’s writing and main character. For fans of Howard, Moorcock, Clark, or even just rousing good sword and sorcery, The Hounds of Ash and Greg Keyes are an enjoyable new addition to the canon.

 Wakes the Narrow Forest The Hounds of Ash: The Sleeping Tide
The Skin Witch The Hounds of Ash: The Opal of Nah
The Fallen God The Hounds of Ash
The Python King's Treasure  


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