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Literature / Kane

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The Kane series is a Heroic Fantasy series by Karl Edward Wagner, about a Barbarian Anti-Hero or Villain Protagonist who has been cursed by a Mad God to an eternal life of wandering.

The main series consists of three novels, Bloodstone, Dark Crusade, and Darkness Weaves. There are also many short stories, which have been collected in several different volumes. The character Kane also makes some guest appearances in other Wagner stories. Dark Crusade was nominated for a World Fantasy Award in 1977.

Not to be confused with Robert E. Howard's Solomon Kane. Or Charles Foster Kane. Or the WWE's Kane. Or the Messiah. Or Rick Riordan's Kane Family.



  • 0% Approval Rating: If Kane spends sufficient time in a region, he will become hated by everyone there as a consequence of his own actions, necessitating that he flee to some distant land. How long it takes depends on the scope and magnitude of his activities.
  • Action Girl: Teres in Bloodstone.
  • Adventures in Comaland: Anyone who invokes the power of the Dark Muse gets to have one in a random dream. Unfortunately the Dark Muse doesn't care whether she puts you in a nice dream or a nightmare.
  • Ambiguous Gender: When they are first introduced in Bloodstone, Teres and Malchion are having a drunken, insult-laden knife throwing contest to determine who gets to enjoy the services of a newly acquired slave girl. After three pages it's revealed that Teres is Malchion's daughter. note 
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  • Ambiguously Bi: While Teres becomes Kane's lover, upon returning to Breimen she invites a female slave to her bedchamber (the same one she's had a drunken fight over with her father).
  • Ancient Tomb: In Darkness Weaves Kane hides in an old burial cavern on the side of a mountain full of such tombs. These became abandoned because of a new religion that has introduced cremation and since they are believed to be ghoul-infested (not without reason), it is a perfect hiding place.
  • Anti-Hero: Kane and some of his companions.
  • Artifact of Doom: In Bloodstone, Kane wants to use the eponymous device, an ancient, sentient, evil construct of alien origin and potentially limitless power, to achieve his aims. What Could Possibly Go Wrong?
  • Asshole Victim: Ionor in "Raven's Eyrie" (in an attempt to mitigate a Moral Event Horizon by Kane).
  • The Atoner: Erill from The Dark Crusade was forced to help Orted Ak-Ceddi's forces. She tries to make up for it by rescuing Jarvo. It does not go well.
  • Attempted Rape: In Bloodstone mercenary Ristkon tries to rape Teres. It does not go well for him.
  • Author Avatar: Cody Lennox in "At First Just Ghostly". He's an American writer invited to a London s-f/fantasy convention. He is also burnt out, drinks much too much and cannot come to grips with the loss of his wife - just like Wagner in real life.
  • Authority Equals Asskicking: Teres from Bloodstone and her father Malchion seem to believe that if Teres is to succeed in the Wollendan (warrior) culture as Machion's heir, she must be the best and manliest warrior of all.
  • Badass Biker: In "Deep in the Depths of the Acme Warehouse", set in modern New Orleans, Kane and his sidekick Blacklight ride Harleys. Probably because they are the closest equivalent to a horse.
  • Badass in Distress: Kane himself at the beginning of "Raven's Eyrie". He's badly wounded (even for his immense healing skills), carried by his few faithful men into an inn run by his victim bent on Revenge, he is pursued by a ruthless bounty hunter, not to mention the Demon Lord himself. And the only person that seems to want to help him is his daughter Klesst.
  • Bizarre Alien Psychology: In "Cold Light", Rehhaile's psychic abilities reveal Kane's emotions to be frightening and alien, which leads her to be cautious when tending to him.
  • Black and Gray Morality.
  • Body Horror: Half-men, survivors of the battle of Lynortis in "Lynortis Reprise". Heavily mutilated, lacking limbs, burnt - and some of them sport prosthetics, like a jaw made of steel.
  • Cain and Abel: Kane is based on Cain from The Bible. He was one of the first humans, created by a Mad God. Kane was cursed for disobeying the god and killing his brother Abel, in this way bringing violence to newly-born humanity.
  • Casts No Shadow: Orted Ak-Ceddi in The Dark Crusade, after he's been touched by dark god Sataki and become his prophet.
  • Chekhov's Gun: In "Dark Muse" Opyros's lover Ceteol is described as wearing fashionable riding boots with silver spurs. These turn out to be quite useful before the night ends.
  • The Chick: M'Cori in Darkness Weaves. She even brings imprisoned Lages flowers to cheer him up.
  • Child by Rape: Kane's daughter Klesst. Her mother Ionor was kidnapped and repeatedly raped by Kane and when she ran away, she was already pregnant. Klesst grows up knowing perfectly well who her father was, since she shares his characteristic looks.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: Upon learning about a plot to kill him, Netisten Maril from Darkness Weaves subjects conspirators to a long session of brutal torture, which includes cutting out their tongues, burning them with hot irons, killing their families before them and then roasting on spikes over slow fire.
  • Conditioned to Accept Horror: Kane is jaded enough to be unfazed by horrific things, although he is able to recognize that they are horrifying.
  • Creepy Blue Eyes/Icy Blue Eyes: Most people don't like looking Kane straight in the eyes, which burn with inhuman hatred and bloodlust.
  • Cursed with Awesome: Kane is "cursed" with immortality and the ability to heal all wounds. Fortunately, he rarely angsts. He mostly just kicks butt.
  • Dead Artists Are Better: In "The Dark Muse", Opyros is a somewhat well known poet, but not very popular because of the morbid tone of his works. In subsequent stories, long after his death, every literate character seems to know who he is and he is considered a genius.
  • Depraved Bisexual: Kane's job interview with Efrel to become her general involves fighting her bodyguard to the death, and then having sex with her, all without any advance warning. She later rapes M'Cori at the first opportunity. Made all the worse by her hideously mutilated body.
  • The Devil: Appears himself in "At First Just Ghostly" as Kane's antagonist.
  • Disability Superpower: Rehhaile from "Cold Light" is blind from birth. However, she can look into other people's minds to look through their eyes, she can also perceive their feelings and in some cases influence them.
  • Double-Meaning Title: The Dark Crusade chapter title "Goldfish" refers to both the fish in Esketra's pond, which are literally eating from her hand, and to Jarvo, whom she has figuratively doing the same thing.
  • Elder Gods: Gods of Chaos in '"Sing the Last Song of Valdese".
  • Eldritch Abomination: The Scylredi in Darkness Weaves, the titular Bloodstone and others.
  • Evil Albino: Evingolis form "Reflections on the Winter of my Soul". White hair, pale skin, pink eyes, highly talented musician and a vicious werewolf who likes to bite a woman and then rape her, while she is still warm and blood is still flowing from the wound.
  • Evil Redhead or at least very shady redhead.
  • Evil Tainted the Place: In Dark Crusade, Kane tells Erill that any place containing a portal to one of the demon worlds, such as the Lair of Yslsl, will "soon become ill-omened and shunned by the wise." The same is true for focus points of Bloodstone's energy lattice that enable Teleportation.
  • Evil vs. Evil: Kane is often pitted against villains even worse than him.
  • Fantasy Conflict Counterpart: The setting of "Lynortis Reprise" is Western front of World War I, complete with trench warfare, poisonous gases and tragic fate of young men who were wounded in combat.
  • Fever Dream Episode: Large part of "Mirage", when Kane is first wounded and then slowly dying.
  • Fold Spindle Mutilation: Happens to Eberhos in "The Dark Muse" when his summoned demon panics.
  • Foreshadowing: In Darkness Weaves Kane mentions offhandedly that later copies and transcriptions of Alorri-Zrokros's Book of the Elders can be deadly because of errors and omissions. Which comes to bite him in Bloodstone.
  • Frog Men: The Rylliti, descendants of the elder race of Krelran, distinctly bachtrian in appearance, degenerate but deadly.
  • Genius Bruiser: Kane himself. Described as "a bit over six feet and carrying past three hundred pounds of bone, sinew, and muscle", he is surprisingly fast for his bulk and can use his sword of Carsultyal steel proficiently. However, he also used to be a sorcerer, can speak several languages including the Old Tongue, knows history and literature (and often also knew the authors personally). And he once performed an emergency tracheotomy.
  • God Is Dead: According to Kane in "At First Just Ghostly": "There was a god. I killed him."
  • Grand Theft Me: What Efrel does to M'Cori to get her Revenge and escape her mutilated body.
  • Half-Human Hybrid: Efrel from Darkness Weaves. Her mother was raped by Scylredi and lost her mind. Efrel's mixed bloods explains why she could survive so much, her talent for dark arts and ability to communicate with Scylredi.
  • Hellhound: Serberys, Lord Tloluvin's hound. Red eyes, fetid breath, "bigger and blacker than a mountain bear", with a black tongue. And pity those who go out at night under Demonlord's moon, as that is when he goes hunting with his master.
  • Heroic Ambidexterity: Kane is naturally left handed, but has trained himself to use his right hand almost equally well. He's skilled enough to fight two different foes at once while wielding dissimilar weapons, such as a sword in one hand and an axe in the other.
  • High Priest: Gerwein, high priestess of the Temple of Shenan in Bloodstone. Barely thirty and very beautiful, she's also haughty, cold and a very talented politician. And she has access to a great library, not to mention some powerful artifact. Oh, and she brings up orphans to become virgin sacrifices, just in case.
  • I Cannot Self-Terminate: Kane absolutely refuses to allow the god who cursed him to "win."
  • Intercontinuity Crossover: In "The Gothic Touch", Kane teams up with Elric.
  • Kill 'Em All: In some stories, almost all named characters die and only Kane survives.
  • Knight In Sour Armor: Alidore from "Cold Light", a young idealist who joins "The Crusader" Lord Gaethaa to fight evil but slowly begins to realise that his commander is a ruthless Knight Templar.
  • Knight Templar: Gaethaa from "Cold Light", devoted to fighting evil - up to and including evil's unwilling servants and slaves.
  • The Lad-ette: Teres from Bloodstone. She wants to be her father's successor in a warrior culture, so she drinks, fights and hunts like other men - she even gets into a knife-throwing contest over who will spend the night with her father's female slave.
    She was a strange creature, Teres, who had devoted most of her 25 years to denying her femininity, and with startling success. Her features were heavily drawn, though not masculine, and might have been called pretty, but for the thin scar crossing one cheek and a nose twice broken and never perfectly set.
  • Last of His Kind: Dwassllir, the last king of giants, in "Two Suns Setting".
  • Left for Dead: Lages in Darkness Weaves, Jarvo in Dark Crusade.
  • Let's You and Him Fight: Kane's tactics in Bloodstone, when he manipulates Breimen to start war with Selonari, so that he can consolidate his power in Arrelarti.
  • Let the Past Burn: At the end of "Reflections on the Winter of my Soul", Kane sets the manor on fire with all the dead bodies inside and reflects on the life that he could have had — at least for a while.
  • Lightning Reveal: In Darkness Weaves It was a dark and stormy night when Arbas the Killer and young Imel were waiting for Kane in an old tomb... extended burst of chain lightning split the midnight skies and threw a flickering bluish light on the figure just entering the crypt. Startled, Imel was unable to suppress a gasp at the sight of the looming cloaked figure silhouetted darkly against the lightning-blasted torrent.
  • Lost Technology: The Scylredi technology in Darkness Weaves, the Bloodstone from Bloodstone.
  • Mad Artist: Opyros from "Dark Muse". He is a young poet obsessed with the idea of writing a perfect poem about Gods of Darkness. To this end he befriends shady characters (like Kane himself), takes dangerous drugs and finally uses the titular Dark Muse, a dangerous artifact of old times. The experience drives him insane but helps him write his perfect poem which drives all listeners insane or kills them.
  • Mad God: The creator of humankind. And since he created humans in his own image, they inherited his madness.
  • Made of Iron: Kane can take immense amounts of punishment and still fight on.
    • And Efrel, considering what she survived.
  • Magic from Technology: It is suggested that all magic is like this.
  • Mayfly–December Romance: Basically, every woman Kane is with, with the sole exception of Naichoryss. Especially Sesi from "Lynortis Reprise", who is a teen. He did try to make one of his lovers immortal. It did not go well.
  • Mind Rape:
    • When Kane uses the Lair of Yslsl to escape from Ceddi, Yslsl hits him hard with this in order to feed off of his emotions. Unfortunately for Yslsl, Kane hits back.
    • Bloodstone also tries this at one point, with about as much success.
  • Multiple Narrative Modes /Present Tense Narrative: The stories are told mainly in third person past tense, but occasionally short passages will switch mode and/or tense for effect. For example, "Mirage" contains a paragraph of Kane's internal monologue while he's incoherent from a head injury. Another example are several paragraphs in "Cold Light", which describe the dead land of Demornte.
  • Oh My Gods!: Happens quite often, as people swear by their gods (or demons): "Shenan's tits!", "Bright Ommem!", "By Lato's black heart!", "Thoem's beard!", "By the Seven Eyes of Lord Thro'ellet!"
  • Opportunistic Bastard: Esketra from Black Crusade. She uses her good looks to her advantage, first seducing aspiring general Javro and then living in comfort as Orted Ak-Ceddi's lover. And she would betray anyone if she thought it would help her. Unfortunately for her, women are immune to her charms and Erill really wants to get her Revenge and rightly suspects that Esketra would be able to convince Javro to forgive her.
  • Pals with Jesus: In Bloodstone, it's revealed that Kane drops in to visit his buddy Jhaniikest, a minor goddess, every hundred years or so, and that she keeps some of his stuff stashed safely away for him. It's implied that they may be occasional lovers.
  • The Plague: What happened to the land of Demornte in the Back Story to "Cold Light". When Kane arrives, the whole rich country has been turned into the land of the dead, with few survivors living their desolate lives in the capital Sebbei. It was also what granted Rehhaile her mystical powers.
    Dead Demornte. Demornte whose towns lie empty, whose farms are slowly returning to forest. Demornte where death has lain and life will no more linger. Land of death where only shadows move in empty cities, where the living are but a handful to the countless dead.
  • Portal Door: Yslsl's lair in Dark Crusade. However, it is very heavily guarded.
  • Powered by a Forsaken Child: An ancient artifact that Shenan's priestesses use to counteract the power of Bloodstone is powered by human sacrifice — virgins brought up in the Temple specifically for this purpose (even though human sacrifice has been banned by the rulers of Selonari).
  • Precursors: The Scylredi, Krelran and other unnamed "elder races" in Darkness Weaves and Bloodstone. Also Dwassllir, the last king of giants, in "Two Suns Setting".
  • Prophecies Are Always Right: Subverted in Darkness Weaves: Roget, Lages and M'Cori each have their fortunes told. Roget's prophecy comes true, but the other two do not.
  • Raised as the Opposite Gender: Teres from Bloodstone.
  • Religion of Evil: The cult of Sataki in Dark Crusade.
  • Revenge: Appears often in different stories.
    • Three of Gaethaa's men in "Cold Light", Jarvo in Dark Crusade, Sataki cultists in "Reflections on the Winter of my Soul" and Ionor in "Raven's Eyrie" all want revenge on Kane.
    • "Sing the Last Song of Valdese" is about cultist Korjonos's revenge on men who raped and killed his lover and mutilated him. It took him seven times seven years to achieve his goal.
    • In Darkness Weaves Efrel wants revenge on Netisten Maril for sentencing her to being dragged by an enraged bull through the streets of his city which turned her into a disfigured monster, while Netisten's nephew Lages wants revenge on both of them for the death of his father.
    • In Dark Crusade Erill wants revenge on Esketra, who caused the death of her friends and a lot of pain to her.
  • Shrouded in Myth: People who encounter Kane often become uneasy at his uncanny resemblance to an evil "Kane" from myth and legend. Probably because he's the same Kane.
  • Sadist: Mollyl from "Cold Light". He joins Lord Gaethaa not because he wants to fight evil but because it gives him ample opportunities to inflict pain to others. The fact that he comes from the island of Pellin, infamous for its depravities, does not help, either.
  • Sex for Services: In "Lynortis Reprise" teenage Sesi offers her body to Kane in exchange for him not giving her up to Jeresen's men. He muses that he could always take her by force but for some reason agrees.
  • Sinister Subway: In "At First Just Ghostly" an abandoned tunnel of London underground is the place where burnt-out writer Cody Lennox meets Satan himself. As well as Kane and Klesst.
  • Swamps Are Evil: Kranor-Rill in Bloodstone is dangerous, full of razor-sharp or tangling vines, poisonous snakes and spiders, deadly quicksand, as well as simply unpleasant, with scum-covered ponds, noxious quagmires and bloodthirsty mosquitos and leeches. And then there are the Rylliti, descendants of an elder race, degenerate but hard to kill.
  • Teleportation: Bloodstone can teleport Kane to certain places, at first not very far from its location. As Kane mentions, coincidentally these points of focus are surrounded by macabre legends.
  • Time Abyss: Kane has been around at least since the end of the "Golden Age" of mankind's creation. Necessarily so, since he caused the end of that age.
  • Titled After the Song: Several of the chapter titles in Dark Crusade are taken from rock lyrics and album titles of the late '60s and early '70s:
  • Villain Protagonist: Kane.
  • Who Wants to Live Forever?: Kane has a moment of this in "Cold Light". He gets over it when Lord Gaethaa's men come to kill him.
    • In Bloodstone, Kane explains to Teres exactly why immortality is awful.
  • Would Hurt a Child: In Dark Crusade, Kane doesn't hesitate to kill the child who spears his horse during the fight to get to the Tower of Yslsl.


Example of: