Monday, July 23, 2012

36. Tor Conan #4, Conan the Triumphant by Robert Jordan

Conan and his free company have now been in Ophir for a year. Building a reputation for their stalwart attitudes and ability to get difficult jobs done. During this year Conan has watched as the The King of Ophir, Valdric, has slipped deeper and deeper from his position, giving more and more power to his generals.  Not long after the story begins, Valdric dies, and the free companions quickly become involved in a power struggle between the three parties seeking to claim the throne. These claimants are Antimedes, Lady Synelle and Valentius. 

Conan comes to the attention of lady Synelle after he purchases a bronze statue of a god whom she wishes to return to life. Believing the statue holds the key to this, she sets about to complicate the Cimmerians life. Along the way she sends bandits, misfits, miscreants, trulls and eventually even Karela the Red Hawk, an erstwhile associate of the barbarian from previous adventures.

Synelle eventually grows wary of toying with the barbarian, and finding that he cares somewhat for Karela, plots to sacrifice her to bring back the dark god. Conan launches an assault on Synelle's mountain fastness and make it to the ceremonial chamber to late. Synelle has managed to raise her dark god, but without sacrificing Karela. Conan engages the demonic entitity and succeeds in destroying it by running it through with a spear. Whatever magics Synelle had used to raise the god, then proceeds to make it's fate her own and both are turned to stone. With the destruction of Synelle and the demon, the mountain fortress begining to crumble around their ears, Conan and Karela make a hasty exit.

While Conan has been sidelined dealing with Synelle, the armies of Valentius have brought him to the very cusp of victory in his quest for the throne, with only a few small skirmishes left before he can safely claim it. Conan sees this as a good opportunity to get out of town, and unable to convince Karela to go with him, bids her farewell. Conan parts ways with his Free Companions and heads south once more towards the sunny land of Argos.

This was a pretty good book all around, It again shows hallmarks of Robert Jordan's writing style, and again reintroduces characters from the other RJ books. This is a nice touch, something which other writers would have been well to do. It makes the Hyborian lands feel as if they are populated by a number of adventures, rather than Conan being the only one. Again the political nature of the book, along with the magical items in this, and especially Lady Synelle, once again reminded me of aspects of Jordan's "The Wheel of Time". 

Unlike when I completed the last of the Steve Perry books, and had a celebratory drink to clear my head.. I'm rather sorry that this was the last Robert Jordan I will be reading for quite some time. It also will likely be the last time we see Hordo or Karela, both of whom I'm going to miss as characters.  It's also a rather sad time since, now, apart from his few Western's, I've nearly read the man's entire literary output, a paltry 21 or so books. It's a shame as, despite his propensity to wander and get caught up in minutiae.. he was a very inventive writer, and I'm very much looking forward to finally finishing The Wheel of Time when Brandon Sanderson's 3rd completed volume is released early next year.

Up next, Conan the Guardian by Roland J. Green.

Friday, July 20, 2012

35. Tor Conan #2, Conan the Defender by Robert Jordan

In this tale, we find Conan once more in Nemedia, having traveled south out of Brythunia. Still toying with the idea of forming his own Mercenary Free Company, the Cimmerian soon reunites with his friend Hordo, and erstwhile foil Karela (last seen in Conan the invincible), and gets involved with the plotting of some trust fund embryo-socialists. In the course of the story he foils an evil wizard, disrupts the plotting of various nefarious nobility, rescues a damsel or two, drinks copiously, and generally has an all around good time.  At the end of the work Conan finally has his free company, and sets off south for Ophir at the head of his band.

The book itself is a bit dense in terms of political machinations, and might require a few re-reads of certain pages in order to really follow whats going on. This is almost the last of Robert Jordan's Conan pastiches, and as I've said previously, I can easily see how this is the same writer who went on to craft the massive (and at times massively confusing) Wheel of Time series. There are ideas and scenes, both good and bad, littered through out these books which were either re-purposed, reused or simply rough drafts for the later work.

Chronologically the book served the purpose of moving Conan from point A, to point B. It had clear chronological connections to  previous works, and goes to some effort to start setting up "Queen of the Black Coast". I feel that it's location here is well founded and I can't see any major problems with it. Whats more, it begins hinting at how precariously balanced the power structure in Nemedia truly is, something which will pay off handsomely by the time you get to "The Hour of the Dragon". Any time a Pastiche writer actually includes information which adds, rather than ignores, to aspects of Robert E. Howard's original stories tends to work out well. After all, that is supposed to be the entire point of these pastiches, to fill in gaps and add to the original authors work, not simply to churn out drek for people who are too afraid to try something new.

While it is a bit political in nature, these scenes rarely slow down the story telling. You can tell that, this being only the second of the Tor pastiches, and consequently only the 2nd Conan book which Jordan had written.. that he was still some what getting the hang of the character, and perhaps still unintentionally basing him more off the Conan of the John Milius film than on the Conan of Robert E. Howard. All in all though, I enjoyed the book and read it at an almost break neck pace (considering my some what lackadaisical attitude towards reviews lately, for which I apologize). If you want a good Conan story, you can't really go wrong with this one.

Up Next is Conan the Triumphant, which is the last Robert Jordan novel I will be reviewing for a very long time, as the only remaining one is his novelization of Conan the Destroyer.. which seeing as it does not fit into the Chronology as presented by William Galen Grey.. I won't be reviewing till the very end of this project.

On a complete aside, I've also just found out that some one has been citing my reviews on the Wikipedia entries for these books.. I'm not sure if I'm flattered by this or not, as it makes me feel as if some one is trying to portray me as something I'm not, an expert.  Really I'm just a fan, and am trying to provide brief reviews and a bit of humor along the way while I read through this massive stack of books.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

34. Tor Conan #27, Conan the Savage by Leonard Carpenter

Conan is now in Brythunia, He's busy gambling in a local dive when he calls out the wrong man for cheating. Soon finding himself in a work camp as slave labor, he formulates an escape. He escapes the work camp through an underground river.. it deposits him somewhere in the wilderness he knows not where.. and now he is Conan the Savage.. having to rely on all of his prowess and instincts to survive in an alien land with no weapons or tools. Conan spends a great deal of time trying to forage and make what he needs, before eventually heading back to civilization. Truthfully to much time was spent on this. Conan eventually finds himself living in a village of happy go lucky hunter-gatherers, who have a vaguely Native American or South East Islander theme to them. This is not a problem except they are located along a river some where in Brythunia, it is never exactly stated where. Conan lives out his days frolicking with his "Wife" and hunting in the forest.

Meanwhile, and obviously having begun much earlier.. before Conan first took his first steps on his adventure, a Brythunian girl named Tamsin's fate is changed forever after her family is murdered before her eyes. She, along with her doll, begin manifesting strange powers which eventually lead her to directly challange the major cult of Brythunia, and set her self up in opposition to it. The problem is, where as they are charlatans aiming only to bilk money, Tamsin and her doll have real, and disturbing powers. This storyline continues apace until Tamsin is queen of Brythunia (?!) and her doll Ninga is high Priestess (?!?!)

Finally with scant pages to spare, Conan and Tamsin's story lines converge with a wet thud ( you didn't seriously think it would be anything interesting did you?) with Conan heading to the capital looking for vengeance against the Brythunians who wronged him.. He achieves this and then continues on his way, south at last.

The annoyingly bifurcated storyline continued for the bulk of the novel, all but about the last 50 pages, and it was generally a relief when Conan wasn't on the page. In spite of the strangeness of the Tamsin storyline it's by far the most interesting of the two. To watch the creation of a new cult, which appears to have legitimate magical powers, and it's eventual takeover of the nation of Brythunia is entertaining if nothing else. Compared to the dull, and exceptionally glacial pace of the Conan chapters once he has escaped the mines, the Tamsin chapters are a more typical fantasy romp, especially if you can separate them from the over all backdrop of the Hyborian Age. Basically, this book was just plain dull.

The only specific chronological note is that Conan has spent time raiding with the Vanir sometime before this novel.. There isn't really anything to demand it's placement where it is, but I can't think of any reason (barring some wonky geography, nothing unheard of in the TOR pastiches) to say it can't go where it is right now. It's one saving grace is that it's a quick read. 

Up next, Conan the Defender by Robert Jordan.