So what do I think of Linwood Vrooman Carter? His Conan stuff was not always awesome. I loved Amalric the Mangod from Flashing Swords! #1, but was quite disappointed by the sequel. It set up an epic premise and never delivered on it. The second story was a repeat of the first, same plot twist with a new location.
But what about Kellory? I always saw this character as a sorcerer version of Conan. He grew up a warrior but due to a savage maiming must turn to the dark arts to achieve his plans of revenge. Since the evil sorcerers are the best part of the Hyborian Saga, this book always stood out to me.
The female protagonist is just cardboard cut-out rescue bait. Pretty standard fair, unfortunately. She’s only there to look pretty and advance the plot by being kidnapped a lot. Still, she at least got to save the hero a few times. Or maybe just once? I guess it depends on if distracting the villain from his battle with the hero by stumbling in and letting him suck on your mind instead counts.
The treatment of sorcery was interesting though. It vaguely reminded me of Dilvish the Damned (not a good Zelazny series by his own standards, but enjoyable if you can forget who wrote it and how much better it should have been). Both character’s wield devastating but limited power. Dilvish has spells he learned in Hell that can destroy a city or level a mountain, but he can’t magic open a locked door to save his life. Kellory’s power is less wildly destructive (at least until he masters the Shadow Spell) but it is still limited by his reserves of energy. He spends most of his time summoning and banishing elemental demons and snorting strange drugs to keep his strength up.
I particularly liked the emphasis on rank within the Brotherhood of Darkness equating to the spiritual authority needed to command demons:
“Go back down, shioggua! Go back down. I am a warlock of the Secret Flame. My circle is the Ninth; my sphere the Sphere of Darkness; my god is Azzamungandyr the Lord of the Mysteries, You may not take the girl!”
The Secret Flame is a direct call back to Gandolf’s battle with the Balrog. In fact, all of Kellory’s magic shares the same aesthetic as Middle Earth’s magic. Nothing is explained, you only ever catch glimpses behind the veil. What do we really know about how Gandolf’s sorcery works. This is all the explanation we ever get:
‘You cannot pass,’ he said. The orcs stood still, and a dead silence fell. ‘I am a servant of the Secret Fire, wielder of the flame of Anor. You cannot pass. The dark fire will not avail you, flame of Udûn. Go back to the Shadow! You cannot pass.’
So here’s the point. Have a coherent metaphysical cosmology worked out before you write a S&S story involving magic. You should never show it all. So long as the world obeys its own cosmic laws (and you know how and why they operate like they do) it will make the supernatural mysterious, as it should be. The reader will realize that the planes of reality in your story are vaster and more involved than what is shown. Having to piece it all together as though it were hardcore scifi only adds to the fun.