Book Review: Skraelings by Carl Sherrell
Here we go, folks! In case you missed my new year’s resolution post, I talked about how I picked up a big box o’ random sci-fi paperbacks for under ten bucks a bit ago. And, like any proper new year’s resolution, I promptly forgot about it … until now! For, you see, it’s time for a book review from THE BOX.
The great thing about dollar-bin paperbacks like these is that it’s an easy way to find strange and obscure books that you just wouldn’t find anywhere else. Case in point, Carl Sherrell’s Skraelings. It’s even from a publisher I’d never heard of before: New Infinities Productions. Wikipedia tells me that it was the company Gary Gygax formed after he left TSR– and apparently they teamed up with Ace publishing to crank out fantasy adventure novels.
As if the title wasn’t enough, just look at that cover. LOOK AT IT. Giant man with crazy eyes and no pants menacing some random Indians? It’s like some freaky BDSM roleplay that’s gone terribly, terribly wrong.
Fortunately (or maybe not fortunately, depending on what you’re in the mood for), Skraelings is not a kinky porn novel. Rather, it’s a cheesy, pulpy fantasy, centering around an uber-powerful demon knight by the name of Raum. (He’s the dude with crazy eyes).
Skraelings is actually a sequel to a book called, creatively enough, Raum. And while I haven’t read the first in the series, the plot isn’t really thick enough to make it nessescary. It basically boils down to “a viking kidnaps Raum’s girlfriend, and so Raum goes sailing to North America with some vikings to rescue her.” Sherell ties Raum’s story in with the Vinland Saga, an account of the first Norse settlements in North America. Case in point, the skraelings of the title are the Native Americans Raum and co. run into during their adventuring. Oh, and every so often Raum kills a bunch of dudes in one kind of battle or another. Pretty standard stuff.
Vikings and Native Americans and a big demon guy make for a rather interesting combination– even if the Native Americans come off as a bit … generic. On the one hand, they’re given more characterization and motivation than your typical barbaric horde, which is good. On the other, they don’t get the same kind of characterization or background that any of the Nordic characters do. It would’ve been cool if Sherrell had found a way to work in some more Native American names and folklore in, but that might be expecting a little too much from a cheesy 1987 fantasy novel. Heck, Sherrell probably should get points for putting his fantasy in something other than generic Ye Olde Medieval Tymes(tm).
Raum is your standard super murdery wandering protagonist, along the lines of Conan or Elric. Not only is he bigger and stronger and more murdery than any mortal man, he’s also got a bunch of dark magic at his disposal … though the gimmick is, by going to the mortal world and falling in love, he’s slowly losing his demonic powers. I get the feeling Sherrell wanted to continue the theme through later novels, but never had the chance to do so, as Skraelings was the last Raum novel. Still, even with his powers reduced, Raum is more than a match for mere mortals– the only reason he winds up tied up and captured like he is on the cover is through somewhat contrived matters of honor and stuff.
While Raum may be (slightly) deeper than the typical ‘I will kill everyone in my way’ protagonist, this doesn’t apply to Vivienne, the woman he spends the book chasing after. Vivienne spends most of the book in damsel mode– which is a shame, as in a flashback she’s shown to be pretty interesting (also evil). See, Vivienne used to be an apprentice to Morgan le Fay, so she apparently was all evil and vampy before she got kidnapped. How cool would it have been if Vivienne and Raum went around being moustache-twirlingly villainous, like a fantasy version of Bonnie & Clyde? But again, that’s just me brainstorming random-ass ideas that I should probably put into a novel of my own or something.
Still, complain as I may, Skraelings is a perfectly serviceable adventure story in the vein of Howard or Moorcock. I wouldn’t put Sherrell on the level of either of those writers, but he’s at least trying. And heck, this book’s got me curious enough to give Raum a read sometime.
Hopefully I won’t have to buy another giant box of paperbacks to find a copy.