After getting a bit tired of a string of Bond novels, I switched over to a series I’ve been interested in for some time. The Conan Series.
For the un-initiated, there is a little history behind the Conan series. While written by Robert Howard (1906-1936) in the early half of the 1900’s, most of his current novels as we have them today come from editors that collected and cleaned up his works that were original published in magazines and from notes. The canonical editor for his work has more or less come to be L. Sprague de Camp. This book is no different; and contains some of Conan’s (argueably) best stories.
The first story is considered one of the best, and is titled Red Nails. It starts with the battle-hardened Valeria of the Red Brotherhood escaping the clutches of a nearby city in which she killed one of the chiefs who made unwanted advances. She heads out into the unknown wilderness where she is found by Conan – who is tracking her down like a love-lorn puppy. After some clever boasting, swaggering, and a little bit of threatening on both sides, they get distracted and cornered by a dragon. In their escape, the spot a strange city hereto unknown to the outside world. As they enter the city, they meet the strange inhabitants who have split into two camps and have been fighting a clan war for decades. Valeria and Conan get embroiled in the fighting and the story takes many twists and turns as the truth behind the mysterious city, the clan leader that never grows old, and a missing wizard become clear. It’s a great story – full of magic and no shortage of carnage.
The second story is the Jewels of Gwahlur. Conan is trying to track down the mythical and fabulous Teeth of Gwahlur from their hiding place in a mystic castle inhabited by an oracle. He is in a race against the clock as the nearby town has sent a party of cultists to track them down as well. Inside, they encounter the oracle (who is very different than they expect!), as well as the true guardians of the Teeth. Another fabulous hack and slash as well as a great twisting and turning story.
The third story, Beyond the Black River, differes from the first two in that Conan is attempting to save a group of settlers and an outpost from a growing horde of attackers lead by an evil and mysterious dark lord. The expedition into the frontier to track them down turns into a slaughter of Conan’s men, and they engage in a running battle back to the fort. Conan turns to fight the dark creature and a fantastic final battle ensues. The back and forth banter between Conan and the evil leader is priceless and really shows the fearlessness and cunning wit of Conan.
Overall, it’s a great collection. I found myself surprised again and again by Howard’s originality and cleverness. You rarely can guess what’s coming next, which keeps the story engrossing to the end. The worlds he paints are equally fantastic. They absolutely explode with imagination and originality.
While not for everyone’s palette in style, I give this a solid A and recommend to anyone who enjoys high adventure and great warrior characters.