The Undead Hordes of Kangul
by Jon F. Merz
Cover Artist: Sam Kennedy
Review by Jon Guenther
Baen Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9781451639162
Date: 03 September 2013 List Price $15.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Just a few pages into this latest offering by Jon F. Merz, I was hooked. And with good reason--this is not your average fantasy novel. Not really much of a surprise since Mr. Merz isn't new to the writing game. First off, the author has used his decades of experience in Ninjutsu as a platform on which to launch this tale. Second, he writes a number of other series and for film and television, so his work is seasoned. Finally, Mr. Merz just simply knows the elements it takes to tell a good story.
The Undead Hordes of Kan-Gul is the story of Ran, a member of the Murai warrior class. But Ran is also a somewhat tortured character with lots of secrets, many of which the author smartly never tells you about. Throughout the novel there are brief flashes to partial scenes, little moments during his training or his own introspection, but much of it is vague. I found myself actually liking that.
Ran shortly encounters the other main characters, all of whom get introduced within the first few chapters aboard a ship sailing across the Dark Sea to a distant land. Following an encounter with sea monsters and a shipwreck on a reef, our valiant crew ends up stranded on lands ruled by the sorcerer and all-around bad guy, Kan-Gul. The cast of characters include a warrior Ran befriends named Kancho, Malkyr (ship captain) and Jysal, a sorcery princess and her sworn, female bodyguard, Neviah.
The plot wasn't exceptional, the most I could say is it was straightforward and unremarkable. It's the characters and world Mr. Merz created that struck me so profoundly, and kept me interested. I felt as if I were reading an homage to Shogun meets Conan, the Destroyer. The author's writing reminds me of the early and strange tales from the height of pulp fiction magazines by such notables as Robert E. Howard and Clark Ashton Smith.
Overall it had sharp dialog and clean prose. I was able to utterly suspend disbelief and it wouldn't surprise me if Mr. Merz opts to continue this book with another. I think it would make a good "loose" series with Ran, Kancho, and Jysal embarking on many an adventure. So maybe this novel didn't have any sort of intellectual depth but I highly recommend The Undead Hordes of Kan-Gul for the sheer entertainment factor and the skill of its author.
One other point, I admire Jon Merz's work because he doesn't feel the need to litter every other page with sex and cursing. That appeals to my own moral and spiritual code.
I really do hope to see additional books about these characters; I think this one's a real winner!