Servant of the Jackal God by Keith Taylor


The noted and influential sword & sorcery author, Keith Taylor, turned seventy-one yesterday. Keith was among the cohort of S&S authors that exploded in the 1970s which included Adrian Cole, Charles R. Saunders, Michael Shea, Richard Tierney and Karl Edward Wagner. Other than a period of serious illness, Taylor has worked fairly steadily through the decades, writing S&S and related fantasy, as well as blogging at various sites.

In honor of his nativity, I reread Keith's episodic novel, Servant of the Jackal God (2012). It takes place in the same universe as most of his fiction, which includes tales of Felimid mac Fal of the "Bard" series. Said universe has been dubbed variously the "Taylorverse" or "Bardverse" by fans. Taylor once remarked that he got the itch to write some stories that were wildly different from his tales of medieval northwestern Europe. The Kamose stories set in Nineteenth Dynasty Egypt and written for Weird Tales were the result.

Kamose is a man whose reach exceeded his grasp... just barely. He went against the Egyptian god, Thoth, and was lucky to escape with his life and soul intact. Servant of the Jackal God picks up decades after that cataclysmic event. Kamose has returned from exile and become a priest of Thoth's rival, Anubis. He has risen very high in the priesthood and is an important figure at Pharaoh's court, where the priests of Thoth seek to bring him down.

The first story in this episodic novel is "Daggers and a Serpent." It opens with the blood n' thunder that Taylor has been known for over the decades. Libyan mercs assault an Egyptian temple and slaughter everyone. Kamose is dragged into the affair. He uses his secret weapon, Mertseger, to resolve the problem. Mertseger--based on an actual creature in Egyptian legend--is a lamia-demon that Kamose has bound to him. She is also his concubine. This points up the influence of Clark Ashton Smith on the series. Taylor, a huge fan of Klarkash-Ton, has readily admitted he looked to CASian wizards like Malygris and Maal Dweb for inspiration whilst creating Kamose.

The rest of the stories--which take place over the course of about two years--follow Kamose as he fights the machinations of rival wizards, priests and Thoth Himself. Along the way, we also read tales of Kamose's henchmen as they do his work. Chief amongst them is Si-Hotep, an honest thief caught up in the doings of wizards. He probably has a bit of Satampra Zeiros' DNA in him. He also serves to provide another--and more action-oriented--viewpoint from Kamose's.

As I said, this is an episodic novel, which works to its benefit, in my opinion. Sword & sorcery does not tend to thrive in non-episodic novels. That may be one reason REH--another of Taylor's literary idols--wrote The Hour of the Dragon in an episodic fashion. Each story/"chapter" maintains a high state of tension which would be almost impossible in the more "decompressed" fantasy novels common these days. Kamose himself, while sympathetic, fits more into the mold of what Karl Edward Wagner called the "heroic villain" as much as anything. The Kamose tales resemble a couple of the less bloody Kane stories in some ways and I could see Karl enjoying them if he'd lived longer. 

Kamose and Keith Taylor certainly have their fans. Weird fiction authors Darrell Schweitzer and Wilum Pugmire both admire the tales of Kamose. Pugmire called them "superb." On the S&S front, authors like Howard Andrew Jones and Scott Oden dig Keith's work. Servant of the Jackal God is still available at Amazon here

Postscript: Being the DMR blog and all, it occurred to me that Servant of the Jackal God would make a great metal concept album. Keith's story titles would work fine, but others also write themselves. "Assault on the Temple," "Embrace of the Lamia," "Beneath the Nile"... you get the picture. It's not like metal hasn't had a long and fruitful love affair with Anubis and Ancient Egypt.