Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Old Nathan, seemingly off the beaten path but still pure David Drake

I first read Old Nathan more than ten years ago. At the time, I hadn’t read Manly Wade Wellman’s John the Balladeer stories. At least not more than one or two in random anthologies. Since then, I have both them all and read that David Drake was a friend of Wellman and wrote Old Nathan as a tribute.

Now, I don’t know if there’s a lick of truth to that story but Old Nathan sure reads that way. That being said, Old Nathan is a far cry from being a pastiche of the Silver John stories. It has its own, very distinct voice and tells a very different story.

The book is a collection of five very heavily interlocking stories about a backwoods witch doctor or cunning man or hedge wizard (you get the idea) uses a bit of magic and lot of cleverness to solve crisis. It’s not five stories about the same guy but the story of that guy in five parts.

And since this is David Drake, that guy is a flawed and damaged hero who rise above his own flaws and overwhelming odds to do the right thing. John the Balledeer was a straight up hero. Old Nathan is a broken man who manages to make the world a better place.

Indeed, the last story is downright harrowing,  not just  because of the stakes but because Drake has managed to make us invested in Old Nathan. 

Without giving any spoilers away, I don’t see there ever being any more Old Nathan works. This isn’t an open-ended series. The book ends in a way that is an interesting and final ending.

Old Nathan isn’t one of David Drake’s more well known works, probably because it isn’t his usual genre. But it’s a good one.

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