The tastefully named Kenneth Bulmer produced a slim volume of sword-and-sorcery titled Kandar, published in the auspicious year of 1969, my natal year. What to say about this? Let me try a few different approaches.
This is streamlined S&S. The paperback weighs in at 127 pages, yet the narrative covers a lot of ground. Bulmer did that by stripping the story down to its essentials. Elmore Leonard’s advice about leaving out the parts people tend to skip is taken here to its limit. Here’s an example from page 95: “They hacked their way a little distance into the jungle, slashing at trailing lianas and groping half-sentient fronds, avoiding giant flowers that sought for them with blind hungrily sucking cups, until they reached a stream. Here, as night fell with a pandemonium of shrieks and calls from the nighted jungle about them, they set a fire and rested.” That’s it. In the hands of another writer that one paragraph would be two or three pages, perhaps an entire chapter. Come on! Half-sentient fronds, giant flowers hungry for blood. A dark jungle night cacophonous with the cries of unknown beasts. Compelling, intriguing, potentially pulse-pounding. Bulmer gives us one evocative paragraph. But it’s enough, it works. It’s a single panel of a comic book that provides all the reader needs. That’s what Kandar is: the distilled essence of a wild, fantastic S&S romp. It stops short of camp, of the sort of burlesque it might have been had, for example, Lin Carter written it. Though some of the dialogue — particularly that of the barbarian swordsman caricature, Krak — does stray into the territory of parody, e.g., “By the bounteous bottom of sweet Vashitulu the Buxom! If I could but swing Koztivkure at these fiends!”
Kandar ideally ought to be read with an accompanying soundtrack by Don Felder, Sammy Haggar, and Black Sabbath. It should be illustrated by Richard Corben. Kandar is an outtake from Heavy Metal. And that is meant as a compliment. The story starts fast and seldom slows down. Our hero, the eponymous Kandar, undertakes a quest to track down two tomes to complete the Trilogy of the Damned in order to summon beings powerful enough to free his embattled city from temporal stasis and rescue his father the God-Emperor, his brother the prince, and a few others. The story follows the travels and adventures that ensue in pursuit of the quest. Those adventures get pretty far out. This was, after all, written in the ’60s. There is magic, swordplay, and sex.
Did I mention that it is short? This is a book meant to be read after drawing a liter of beer from your kegerator and sitting down in a comfortable chair for a few hours. If your afternoon isn’t interrupted, you should be able to breeze right through it. This isn’t immortal literature. But it is fun. I have quibbles: the bad guys who kick things off are never explained, no backstory or motivation is ever provided. The world building is piecemeal. It’s a D&D home-brew campaign world with 90% of the hexes not filled in, just the few with adventure hooks. It doesn’t matter. The momentum of the story carries you zipping past any of that. By the time you think you’ve spotted a plot hole, you’ve already been rocketed along to another action scene: a shipwreck or a Night on Bald Mountain Walpurgisnacht. So relax, enjoy the ride. It will be over shortly.
Then, if you are hungry for more fantasy adventure, refill that liter beer mug and pick up a copy of Thick As Thieves.