It’s official, I’ve given up trying to find a second hand copy of ‘The Emperor of Dreams’ (Fantasy Masterworks edition). I don’t mind forking out a little extra money for a book that I really want but thirty pounds is a little too much, even for me (especially with Christmas coming). Luckily ‘The Return of the Sorcerer’ is not only a fraction of the price but on its way to me as we speak. All I have to do is get the baby to go to sleep on me and I’ll be able to settle down for a nice read without being interrupted :o)
In the meantime, there’s plenty of Clark Ashton Smith stories to be had online if you know where to look. I found a free download of all his works and ‘Necromancy in Naat’ can also be found Here if you fancy wading your way through a massive, seemingly never ending, wall of text. It’s your call but I went for the free download myself. Whatever one you choose, ‘Necromancy in Naat’ is another wonderfully atmospheric read that needs to be explored by anyone with even the slightest taste for fantasy that is on the dark and gloomy side. It can be a bit stodgy to get through at times (a slight over emphasis on setting the scene) but ‘Necromancy in Naat’ pays real dividends if you keep at it.
‘Yadar, prince of a nomad people in the half desert region known as Zyra, had followed throughout many kingdoms a clue that was often more elusive than broken gossamer. For thirteen moons he had sought Dalili, his betrothed, whom the slave traders of Sha-Rag, swift and cunning as desert falcons, had reft from the tribal encampment with nine other maidens while Yadar and his men were hunting the black gazelles of Zyra… He had sworn then a great oath to find Dalili. Whether in a slave-mart or brothel or harem, whether dead or living, whether tomorrow or after the lapse of grey years.’
What is it about the men of Zothique that they seem to keep losing their women? This is possibly the second or third story I’ve read where this has happened and I’m starting to wonder if anything actually gets done other than the resulting quests. Oh well, it’s always a good way to kick things off and make sure that the stakes are appropriately high. If that wasn’t enough, things promptly get worse with our hero being stuck on a ship floating inexorably towards the edge of the world. And if that wasn’t bad enough… The ship is wrecked on the shore of a necromancer’s isle where our hero waits to be sacrificed to a demon familiar. Clark Ashton Smith sure knew how to ‘do bleak’ didn’t he? For me, the end result was that I really wanted to stick with this story just to see if Yadar’s fate was really that clear cut. There’s a real crescendo being built up here and I wasn’t sure if Ashton Smith was doing that deliberately in order to hit the reader with something completely unexpected (I wouldn’t have put that past him). Without giving too much away, the ending is that clear cut but, at the same time, not at all what I expected (there are a couple of twists along the way). And I think that only Ashton Smith could go for the ‘happy ending’, in a situation like this, and get away with it.
I’m not going to lie, I really didn’t need quite so much detail about the island of Naat; although it contributed appropriately to the atmosphere it also stifled the progress of the story itself. Don’t let that put you off though, ‘Necromancy in Naat’ is not only free to read but has it all; intrigue, a quest, foul magic and an unsettling ‘happy ending’. Give it a go.