Kane is a literary character created by Karl Edward Wagner in a series of sword and sorcery novels and short stories first published between 1970 and 1985. The stories are set in a grim, pre-medieval world which is nonetheless ancient and rich in history. In some of Wagner's later stories Kane appears in the present day — for example, as a drug dealer in "Lacunae" and as a somewhat suspect publishing magnate in "At First Just Ghostly".
Little is known about Kane's origins. In the story "Misericorde", he declares to one of his foes that his father's name was Adam and his stepmother's name was Eve, possibly making him the biological son of Adam's first wife Lilith. Like traditional depictions of Cain he is a powerful, left-handed man with red hair, said to have killed (strangled) his brother Abel, and has been cursed by a mad god with an eternal life of wandering. Nevertheless, he is vulnerable to wounds, and it is said that he can be killed "by the violence that he himself created", although his wounds heal at a rapid pace. Kane is portrayed as both an excellent warrior ("I kill things," he tells Elric in "The Gothic Touch". "It's what I was made to do. I'm rather good at it") and an accomplished sorcerer, who spends the millennia wandering from one adventure into the next. Also like the Biblical Cain, Kane is marked as a killer; those who meet the gaze of his icy blue eyes cannot maintain contact for long, for they give away Kane's true nature as a butcher of men.
He is often compared to Conan the Barbarian, but Kane is quite different in that he is a devious character with a more somber and reflective outlook on life than Conan and has none of the latter's dislike of sorcery. His creator described him as a character "who could master any situation intellectually, or rip heads off if push came to shove". Some commentators have argued that the fantasy protagonist that Kane has most in common with is Michael Moorcock's Elric, but Wagner was also inspired by novels such as Melmoth the Wanderer and The Worm Ouroboros. Kane is unconcerned with common morality, since no human relationship can ever last more than a small fraction of his lifetime (although the daughter he fathered in "Raven's Eyrie" turns up as an adult in the modern-day "At First Just Ghostly"); and he frequently ends up on the wrong side in the conflicts in which he involves himself, often to his own detriment. A common theme running through all Kane stories is the hero's weariness with his own immortality and his attempts to give his existence meaning.
- Bloodstone (1975)
- Dark Crusade (1976)
- Darkness Weaves (1978) (editorially altered abridgement published in 1970 as "Darkness Weaves With Many Shades")
- Death Angel's Shadow (1973)
- "Reflections for the Winter of My Soul" - Kane meets a shapeshifting enemy who knows him (sequel to Dark Crusade).
- "Cold Light" - a knight forms a band of crusaders and mercenaries in a quest to find and kill Kane.
- "Mirage" - Kane meets another immortal and discovers that death is not the answer to his problems.
- Night Winds (1978)
- "Undertow" - a mistress of Kane seeks to escape from him with the aid of a young barbarian.
- "Two Suns Setting" - in a stony desert, Kane encounters the last of an elder race.
- "The Dark Muse" - Kane's poet friend takes inspiration from a journey to chaos.
- "Raven's Eyrie" - a previous victim of Kane plans to send his soul to hell.
- "Lynortis Reprise" - the survivors of a bloody siege meet a betrayer.
- "Sing a Last Song of Valdese" - a mutilated wizard takes his revenge.
- The Book of Kane (1985)
- "Reflections for the Winter of My Soul", "Sing a Last Song of Valdese", "Raven's Eyrie" and:
- "Misericorde" - Kane enters the keep of the cruel Vareishei clan.
- "The Other One" - the gods are sometimes merciful; Kane is less so.
Kane also appears in "Lacunae", collected in Why Not You and I? (1987), and in "At First Just Ghostly", "Deep in the Depths of the Acme Warehouse" and "The Gothic Touch" (which features Michael Moorcock's Elric of Melniboné), collected in Exorcisms and Ecstasies (1997). This volume also includes the fragment "In the Wake of the Night" and an early version of "Lynortis Reprise".
Night Shade Books reprinted the complete novels and stories in two volumes, as follows:
- Gods in Darkness: The Complete Novels of Kane (2002)
- Dark Crusade
- Darkness Weaves
- Midnight Sun: The Complete Stories of Kane (2003)
- Death Angel's Shadow (Poem)
- Two Suns Setting
- The Dark Muse
- Sing a Last Song of Valdese
- Lynortis Reprise
- Raven's Eyrie
- Reflections for the Winter of My Soul
- Cold Light
- The Other One
- The Gothic Touch
- Midnight Sun (Poem)
- Deep in the Depths of the Acme Warehouse
- At First Just Ghostly
- The Treasure of Lynortis (Early version of "Lynortis Reprise")
- In the Wake of the Night (fragment of uncompleted fourth Kane novel)
- The Once and Future Kane (Non-fiction essay)