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What was the deal with…? Bloodstone by Karl Edward Wagner

January 2, 2022

I’m a cheapskate, and last week I spent $20 on this used paperback copy of Bloodstone by Karl Edward Wagner.

I rarely spend $20 for a single book. I won’t spend it on a brand new hardback, even if it’s on discount. I won’t even spend $20 for a box set of multiple books. But I spent $20 for this beat up paperback copy, and I don’t regret it.

I’ve read Bloodstone three or four times throughout my life. It’s one of my favorite sword & sorcery novels. It’s only about 300 pages. It’s a self-contained novel in a series where you don’t have to read the other books to know what’s going on.

The book isn’t perfect. A couple sections in the second half feel rushed. The descriptions get a little repetitive. Even though the flaws in the writing are noticeable, they weren’t bad enough for me to stop reading.

Anyway, Bloodstone seems like a simplified version of A Game of Thrones. Two cities are manipulated into war, while the instigator gathers the forces of an ancient race to conquer the world. It’s not exactly like A Song of Ice and Fire, but there are some basic similarities.

I know George R.R. Martin has read Bloodstone. I mean, I probably can’t prove it in the courts, but I still know. Anybody who writes sword & sorcery knows Bloodstone. It came out in the 1970s, which was probably the peak for sword & sorcery sales. There’s no way George R.R. Martin didn’t read it.

I’m not saying A Game of Thrones is a Bloodstone rip-off. There are some similarities and parallel thoughts. It’s not a rip-off like The Sword of Shannarra was a rip-off of The Lord of the Rings. If anything, Bloodstone might be considered a rip-off (I use the term ‘rip off’ loosely) of The Lord of the Rings, because it involves an almost all-powerful ring that controls its possessor, but there are no dorky hobbits or elves or dwarves. It’s just humans, sorcery, monsters, and misogyny, everything you need for great sword & sorcery.

Bloodstone is way better than A Song of Ice and Fire simply because it’s done. Karl Edward Wagner actually finished the story. He didn’t get bogged down with adventures of Teres (an interesting character in Bloodstone) or the political rise of Dribek (another interesting character) before he finished the novel. Wagner just told the story and then wrote more books.

Of course, Karl Edward Wagner wrote his books in the 1970s. He didn’t have the internet to distract him every day like George R.R. Martin does now. A few fantasy geeks knew Karl Edward Wagner’s name name, but nobody would have recognized him if they saw him just hanging out at a sci-fi convention.

I still can’t believe I spent $20 on Bloodstone, though. I’m not the only sword & sorcery fan who is aware of Bloodstone. The book pricer at the used book store knew to sell it for $20 in the “Collectibles” section. Most books in that area go for $5, maybe $10. Bloodstone was the highest priced item that wasn’t locked up. According to the price sticker, Bloodstone had been on the shelf for only a few days. If I hadn’t bought it, I’m pretty sure somebody else would have soon.

I had most of Karl Edward Wagner’s books when I was a teenager, and then I sold them on eBay as a collection for a ridiculously high price a few years ago. Back then, I’d take stuff from my book collection and let them sit in a store format at extremely high prices for months at a time. It was a great strategy for cleaning out stuff that I wasn’t going to read anymore because almost everything eventually sold. I emptied out some space in the house, and we paid some bills ahead of time.

Every once in a while, though, I want to reread something that I’ve sold. The good news is that it’s easy to buy stuff back. I probably could have waited and gotten Bloodstone for a cheaper price, but I don’t know. I enjoyed reading it again. Now maybe I’ll sell it again. I think that’s the healthy way to treat books. Instead of having a bunch of old, crusty, yellowed books gathering dust in a closet, I can sell them or lend them out.

Anybody want to buy Bloodstone for $30?

  1. Wow. I haven’t bought a book of $20 before. I’m sure it must have been THAT good.

  2. It definitely sounds like an interesting book!

    Internet as a distraction is a real thing, although I’m not sure GRRM spends as much time on it as I do. I haven’t watched all of Game of Thrones yet, but it still bothers me that the show went beyond the source material. I can understand if book five ends in a cliffhanger and HBO didn’t want to wait for more books to be released in order to have a complete story, but even then, it irks me a little. That’s why I’m only going to watch the show through season five lol.

  3. My comment doesn’t seem to be appearing here, but, to be more succinct, _Bloodstone_ was NOT inspired by _Lord of the Rings_, which book was not well-known in the states when Karl wrote _Bloodstone_. My guess is that The Ring Cycle by another Wagner is a more likely influence.

  4. I don’t see any Tolkien whatsoever in Kane, beyond the trope of a Ring of Power as Schmuck Bait control device; the overwhelming influence on Karl Edward Wagner was Robert E. Howard. (Wagner’s similarly bleak and melancholic outlook made his Howard pastiches the most satisfactory—and led to his similarly untimely end.)

    “A few fantasy geeks knew Karl Edward Wagner’s name name, but nobody would have recognized him if they saw him just hanging out at a sci-fi convention.” Unless they knew to look for a burly bearded redhead—Kane was a pretty damn blatant self-insert.

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