This story is taken from the collection of the same name. I'm pretty sure these tales can be found in more recent collections but this book is going for pennies on Amazon at the moment, just a thought... ;o)
As a rule, I normally stay away from reading too many Robert E. Howard stories in one sitting. As good a storyteller as Howard was (and he was) he was writing for very specific markets so there’s the danger of essentially reading the same story more than once if you know what I mean. That’s a very easy way to get turned off an author and that would be real shame in this case as Robert E. Howard is a very good storyteller.
So the plan was to read and post about something very different then but one of my ‘go to’ favourites let me down and left me with a gap in the early morning commute to work. Sorry ‘They Thirst’, you just weren’t the book for me this time round. Where to go for my reading fix then? I’d noticed ‘The Gods of Bal-Sagoth’ while I was reading ‘Casonetto’s Last Song’ and ‘The Curse of the Golden Skull’ (scroll down the page for my thoughts on those) and figured it was just the right length for a quick read on the train.
As it turned out, ‘The Gods of Bal-Sagoth’ wasn’t just quick filler for the train; it swiftly became a story where I didn’t notice the train stations flash by. I was lucky I got off at my stop and not another one down the line…
Turlogh O’Brien, a mighty Gaelic warrior serving no master but gold, is shipwrecked on a strange island with only his axe and an old Saxon comrade for company. There’s no such thing as a deserted island for Robert E. Howard though and soon, Turlogh is caught in a fight between old gods and the new and a struggle for ultimate control of the ancient city of Bal-Sagoth.
Do you ever get the feeling, reading a book, that the author wrote it just for you? Like they knew exactly what you were after and just gave it to you, all wrapped up in plot and characterisation? That’s the feeling I got with ‘The Gods of Bal-Sagoth’, reading it at just the time I did. Howard tells a story here that took me out of a rather grimy train carriage (I was sat next to the toilet…) and away from everything that’s going on for me in the real world. For half an hour, it was all about high adventure on the seas, facing down a twelve foot tall devil bird and exploring an ancient city. All of this was accompanied by stern heroes and gripping swordfights. Thanks for that Mr Howard.
It’s not just about the swordfights though (well, it mostly was with me but I was having one of those mornings…) It’s also interesting to see Howard play on the title and cast new light on the ‘gods’ who want to control Bal-Sagoth. One is pretending to be a god, one has aspirations to godhood and the final one could well be a god indeed (with definite food for thought regarding its ‘actions’) I also liked the way that the ‘damsel in distress’ is a lot more cunning and Turlogh himself isn’t bound by morals either; this approach adds a bit of a fresh twist to the well-established way that Howard has of telling his tales.
I also really enjoyed the ending where Turlogh ends up with something he was never looking for and no way at all of making it work for him. Everyone loses and just being alive is the best you can hope for here; I like endings like that and will have to dig around and see if I have any more ‘Turlogh O’Brien’ tales lurking on my shelves.