Just finished Conan the Conqueror audio book from the Conan series.
As with most of Robert Howard’s works, this one has been edited and came through many different sources before reaching the form it has today. Though titled Conan the Conqueror now, it was originally published as a 5-part serial in Weird Tales magazines in 1935-6 under the name The Hour of the Dragon. A British publisher (Dennis Archer) originally turned down some of Howard’s collected short stories, but suggest the idea of a novel to him. This is the result of that effort, but the publisher when bankrupt before the novel could be printed. It wasn’t until it was bought by Gnome Press in 1950 that it earned the title Conan the Conqueror and was finally published in book format.
The story takes place later in Conan’s life, during his reign as King of Aquilonia. As with many Howard tales, he doesn’t follow a chronology of Conan’s life, but tells tales about the whole spectrum of his life as tales might be told around a campfire of a great warrior. This story follows a plot by a group of conspirators to depose Conan in favor of Valerius, heir to Conan’s predecessor Numedides, whom Conan had slain to gain the throne. To accomplish this they resort to necromancy, resurrecting Xaltotun, an ancient sorcerer from the pre-Hyborian empire of Acheron. With his aid the Aquilonian army is defeated by that of the rival kingdom of Nemedia and occupied. Conan, captured, is slated for execution until the sympathetic slave girl Zenobia risks her life to free him.
Meanwhile, the conspirators are also learning that the ancient Xaltotun wishes to throw off the shackles of his co-conspirators and physically reform the world into the one he knew centuries before and conquer them as he once did. The conspirators steal a gem that constantly burns with flame, the Heart of Ahriman, which they mistakenly think to be the source of Xaltotun’s terrible and unmatched power. In reality, the gem is the only thing that can defeat Xaltotun. Conan learns of this from temple priests persecuted by the conspirators armies, and Conan quests to retrieve the Heart of Ahriman from the thief sent to throw it in the sea. He retrieves the stone after an epic voyage that takes him to the very heart of the corrupted Stygian temples, and sets to raising an army with neighboring countries to defeat Xaltotun, the conspirators, and reclaim his kingdom.
As the armies meet, an epic battle then erupts. Not only the clashing of armies, but the clashing of sorcery between the Heart of Ahriman and Xaltotun. It’s an epic battle with many twists and a satisfying ending.
Some consider this one of Howards best works. I don’t know if I’d go that far, but it certainly is epic and certainly good. I have to say I actually like the swashbuckling style of the free-roaming Conan more than the one that rules a kingdom. Conan even ponders the idea of leaving ruling (which doesn’t seem to agree with his carefree style) and go back to those earlier days of pirating the seas and high adventures. One gets to see many of the great traits that makes Conan so awesome as a character. His desire to join into combat during the first fights is notably different than the tone you would read in many novels today. Conan is certainly a lover of battle and adventure, and it’s fun to read.
Overall, I give this story a solid A-, and recommendation for anyone that would like to further their reading of Conan. I wouldn’t recommend it as a first introduction to Conan since this story takes place later in his life after much of his adventuring is done; but it’s a great story for those familiar with the series.