Thursday, December 10, 2020

Kyrik: Warlock Warrior (Kyrik #1)

Kyrick: Warlock Warrior, by Gardner F. Fox
April, 1975  Leisure Books

I picked this one up a few years ago when I was on a sword and sorcery kick; the typically-great Ken Barr cover drew me right in. Barr has always been my favorite of these ‘70s cover artists, and as ever his art completely captures the subject matter. Also if you closely inspect the cover art, as I did, you’ll note that the green-haired babe is fully nude. However Barr’s artwork is more risque than anything in Kyrik: Warlock Warrior; the book is very tame in both the sex and violence departments, more tame even than Robert E. Howard’s original Conan stories. Also I hate to inform you of this, but Barr’s cover is also incredibly misleading: there is no green-haired babe in the book…nor is there a pterodactyl-type flying creature, either. There is a brawny dude with a sword in the book, though, so at least there’s that. 

Speaking of Conan, Leisure Books clearly wanted to follow the trend, hence Fox delivers an intro where he tries to argue that the novel, which takes place in days of old when magic filled the air, could’ve possibly happened in some prehistorical era. His Kyrik is sort of a combo of Conan and Howard’s other creation, Kull, in that Kyrik is a legendary, almost mythical ruler of the past. As the novel unfolds we find that Kyrik’s backstory is a little involved, but here’s the gist of it: a thousand years ago he was a powerful barbarian who took control of a kingdom, a la Conan. But he ran afoul of a black magician and was turned into a statue…and the statue was lost. Now, a thousand years later, the statue is found by a young sorceress, and Kyrik is brought back to life. This first novel details his battle against the descendant of the man who turned him into a statue. 

Aryalla is the young sorceress who finds Kyrik; beautiful and built, with “long black hair, like that of a harlot of the traveling fairs.” Her own involved backstory has it that she was the daughter of the chief mage of Tantagol, the kingdom which Kyrik once ruled. But rival sorcerers plotted to get the ruler of Tantagol to kill her father, and now Aryalla travels around the known world, seeking out the Kyrik statue she learned of through her father. She believes that a reborn Kyrik will help her gain revenge on Devadonides, despotic ruler of Tantagol – and the descendant of the original Devadonides, who had Kyrik turned into a statue a thousand years ago. As the novel opens Aryalla, still in her early 20s, has been searching for a few years or somesuch, and finally comes across the statue in the booth of a travelling salesman. 

Demons are very active in this world; Fox almost implies that all the “gods” people worship are in fact demons. But nothing much is made of this, really, other than Aryalla and others standing in pentagrams when they call forth this or that god or goddess. What’s interesting is that these various gods are clearly not omniscient nor omnipotent; later in the book Kyrik summons his personal goddess, Illis, an Aphrodite-type whose cult has disappeared in the past thousand years. Not only has she lost power on earth because no one worships her anymore, she also often tells Kyrik she’s unable to do this or that thing for him – and, when she appears in human form (as a super hot, super-built blonde, of course), she comes off more like a damsel in distress, displaying no godlike attributes at all. 

Illis no longer having any followers is one of the few ramifications Kyrik experiences a thousand years in the “future.” Humorously, almost nothing has changed in this prehistorical world; there’s even a part where Kyrik reveals to Aryalla that he hid something in a favored tavern…and not only is the same tavern still there, but so is the item Kyrik hid in it! About the most we get out of the whole “thousand years” schtick is Kyrik’s constantly going on about how he hasn’t eaten in a thousand years, or drank any ale, or had a woman – which of course he pointedly reminds Aryalla of several times, though suprisingly the two of them never do the deed. It got to the point where I kept waiting for Kyrik to go to the bathroom so he could boast that it was his “first dump in a thousand years.” 

Well anyway I got ahead of myself; Aryalla finds the statue, summons some demons, and they help her bring Kyrik back to life. He seems pretty blas√© about it being a thousand years later, so I guess he didn’t leave a wife or children or any friends behind. But then, the characters here are pretty one-dimensional, and Fox delivers only what is expected of him: a cheap Conan knockoff for a low-rent publisher. But then again this is what elevated Howard’s original stories over all the ripoffs; there was a lot more meat to Howard’s stories. And as mentioned they were more risque as well, despite Howard publishing his stuff over forty years before Fox. We’re sometimes informed that Aryalla has “high breasts” and whatnot, and there’s also a part where she gets hot and bothered by Kyrik’s “Luststone” (a magical gem that arouses lust in whoever looks upon it – the item Kyrik hid in that tavern centuries before), but the two are constantly spurning any opportunity to get busy, as there are “more important” things to do, like the whole thing’s a stupid TV show where they’re constantly putting off the sexual tensions between the male and female protagonists, like that dumbass Lost show, where we were supposed to buy into a love triangle scenario when these damn people had just been in a plane crash and were now stranded on some remote island (which turned out to be about as populated as Manhattan), but it was a loooong-simmer of “will they or won’t they,” while you’d figure in reality any such inhibitions would be tossed aside. Same goes for Jerry Ahern’s The Survivalist series, which took that whole love triangle nonsense into even more absurd dimensions – literally the end of the world and the titular “survivalist” was wondering if he should be unfaithful to his wife (who could’ve been dead, for all he knew) and give it to the hot Russian spy-babe who was in love with him. And this went on for like twenty novels! I remember listening to the Graphic Audio adaptations of the series years ago, during the commute to work, and ultimately banging the steering wheel in frustration over this endless, go-nowhere subplot – I know not once but several times I yelled, “It’s the end of the world, just do it already!” 

But I digress. I bring this up because we’re constantly told Kyrik is a lusty warrior of legendary repute, so you’d think he’d be tossing little sexpot Aryalla into the nearest bed. And he has the opportunity to do so several times. He doesn’t, and it’s an indication that Fox is much more conservative in this regard than Howard; same goes for the violence, which lacks any of Howard’s customary gore. Curiously Kyrik does get lucky, but it’s with newly-introduced Myrnis, a busty vagabond-type beauty who has been living in Kryick’s cabin in the woods – yes, even his cabin is still here, a thousand years later. A love triangle quickly develops, with Aryalla jealous of the attention Kyrik gives Myrnis, and vice versa; luckily Fox doesn’t draw this out for the entire novel, with Kryick finally “getting laid for the first time in a thousand years” (not an actual quote from the book) courtesy Myrnis. Fox leaves the event entirely off-page, as he does Kryick’s few other “encounters” with Myrnis. 

As for the action quotient, Kyrik doesn’t make his first kill until nearly page 50. His customary sword is named Bluefang – it was turned into a statue along with him. As for Kyrik, he’s also a Conan ripoff in physical stature, save that he has “tawny” hair. Otherwise there’s no personality about him, and the “warlock” aspect of the title is seriously unexplored. Indeed, late in the novel Kyrik tells Aryalla that he’ll need her magic in the climactic battle, so any hopes of Kyrik casting spells while waving his broadsword are quickly dashed. But then, even later in the book Fox reminds us that Kyrik is “also” a practicioner of magic, same as Aryalla…not that he does anything to prove it. This “warlock” deal promised to be the only thing that would separate Kyrik from Conan, but I get the impression Leisure just came up with the title and Fox didn’t do anything to exploit it. 

Aryalla gets Kyrik’s aid, after bringing him back to life: they will return to Tantagol and Kyrik will help her vanquish Devadonides – the descendant of the Devadonides who turned Kyrik into a statue. Along the way they encounter various brigands and foot soldiers of the evil king, and Bluefang tastes blood “for the first time in a thousand years.” Along the way Kyrik also “encounters” Myrnis, who initially promises to be a more colorful personality than the mostly-icy Aryalla, but then drops from the text when the trio arrives in Tantagol, only to return at the end so she can ride off into the sunset with Kyrik. About the most she does is darken Kyrik’s skin so that he can pass as a vagabond and enter the city undetected. But immediately after this Kyrik gets in a two-hour bar brawl which promptly gets him tossed into prison. 

Here Kyrik manages to reconnect with his goddess, Illis, who appears to him in human guise – and implies she wants a little lovin’, though curiously once again Fox doesn’t follow through. Instead, Illis spends the rest of the novel in the form of a snake, wrapped around the hilt of Bluefang, speaking telepathically with Kyrik. The confrontation with Devadonides isn’t very memorable, as he’s fat and powerless; the real battle is with the demon he and his chief mage worship. Everyone’s whisked away to a magical lair, where Kyrik supposedly uses his own warlock powers to suss out the demon’s location, but even here the fighting’s mostly done with Bluefang. By novel’s end Kyrik has deposed Devadonides and could regain control of his old kingdom of Tantagol, but instead he decides to hand it over to Aryalla so that he can hit the road with Myrnis and have more adventures. 

Three more novels followed, all published by Leisure and now all available as cheap eBooks, it appears. I found this one pretty tepid, but it must be stated that Fox acquits himself better in the fantasy arena than he did in sci-fi, at least judging Kyrik: Warlock Warrior against Beyond The Black Enigma.


Robert Deis (aka "SubtropicBob") said...

Another interesting review that brings back memories of browsing through paperbacks in bookstores. That Ken Barr cover pulled me in, too -- back in '75.

DaveM said...

The Survivalist digression is great. I was reading that series in sixth grade, so it still has a bit of the nostalgic factor for me, but is pretty bad. I did try the graphic audio version of the first novel or two probably ten years ago. The main character voice sounded like he was doing a John Wayne impression which both cracked me up and made me a little sad. As always, great stuff Joe! Thank you!

Johny Malone said...

How is barbaric sex? I suspect short and intense.