Monday, December 17, 2012

45. Tor Conan #35, Conan the Gladiator by Leonard Carpenter.

Conan, newly returned to civilization following his adventures in the Southern Kingdoms and Kush, now finds himself in the Shemite city of Thujara with his money running low. Before long he is caught up with a circus troop in need of a strong man to wrestle with local toughs in order to make bets. They are made an offer to journey to Stygia to perform. After some travel they arrive in Stygia and do their circus and by the end of their period there one of the circus performers has become a new leader in Stygia, and then Conan leaves.

Honestly, that's a complete summary of the entire novel. Vastly simplified, but theres really not much else that happened. It was an entertaining enough book, but it could have been a much smaller short story.. it's so padded with examples of circus life and his interactions with the other circus performers. It's not got much going for it in terms of Conan's character, but thats nothing knew for Carpenter as a writer.. however.. next we get to the major problem with this book.

I just want to point out, that the placement of this book in this Chronology, proves one thing. That Conan has GIANT BRASS BALLS.. they are so big, I'm surprised he can even walk. The reason I say this is simple, He GOES TO STYGIA, and LOOKS JUST LIKE AMRA, and he does all of this AFTER having spent years, one; foiling Stygian plots, two; raiding Stygian ships, three; after leading a raid into the very heart of Stygia and four; running afoul of numerous Stygian nobles and priests all over the Hyborean Continent.. And he does all of this.. in order to bed a Circus girl? Yes, He went to Stygia to rescue Belit's Brother, he will later go to Stygia while trying to defeat Xaltotun in Hour of the Dragon, but both times he went, great need impelled him to undertake such a risky venture, and he treated it as such. Simply put, One does not simply walk into Stygia. This trip just makes no sense at all, at least not during this point in his life. Considering that he starts in Shem, and there is no reference to him having recently been in the southern kingdoms, or his days of piracy, And if it wasn't for a single mention of Conan having been to Stygia, which he visited in Conan the Rebel, I would have to assume that it took place before Queen of the Black Coast, since he is singularly not worried about going to Stygia on such a mundane trip. Considering that the only explanation I can think of to explain such a thing away, is that Conan, still bereft at the death of his lover Belit, simply doesn't care what happens to him. This explanation falls apart though, when the logical extrapolation of that would be he would simply have stayed among the Bamulas and not bothered having begun the arduous journey northwards, and especially wouldn't have then turned around and gone south again. This is a case where the simplest explanation is the best, the book is bad, poorly thought out, if still entertaining, with no reference given to any attempt at maintaining geographic logic, or consistency in Conan's travels. Ugh. I've found that basically the only reason it works here, is that Conan is still in the same general area in the next book, which actually makes some logical effort to explain why he is there.

Up Next, considered to be perhaps the best Conan Pastiche, John C. Hocking's "Conan and the Emerald Lotus"

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

44. Ace Conan #2.8, The Snout in the Dark by Robert E. Howard and L. Sprague Decamp

Conan, now in Meroe the Capital city of Kush, fresh from his adventures in the southern black kingdoms, rescues a queen named Tananda. It seems that Tananda is the cuase of some ire for a dark wizard who is using a conjuration to eliminate political prisoners and then blaming the deaths on the queen. Conan of course can't help but get involved and soon finds himself a captain of the queen's guard. He helps interrogate a suspicious nemedian slave girl before eventually unraveling the plot against the queen.  Conan and the slave girl are nearly killed, but the conjured creature is gravely wounded and returns to it's master, alerting a large crowd of who is behind the killings in the process. Soon a rebellion is rocking the city of Meroe, and Conan and the slave girl decide to leave town.

This is an attempt by DeCamp to finish an REH fragment, I'm not sure how much is which writer, and to be honest it's pretty mediocre. It really rounds off the bulk of this particular book which isn't really that great of a representation of REH's Conan at his best. It contains quite a few stories where Conan either espouses some very nasty opinions, threatens nefarious deeds, or simply runs away in a rather un Conan-like manner. That being said this volume of the ACE series does contain what is one of the BEST Conan, and possibly REH stories ever, Queen of the Black Coast. The rest function more as an Anchor attempting to drag down QotBC than anything else.

Up next, Conan the Gladiator by Leonard Carpenter

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

43. Ace Conan #2.7, The Castle of Terror by L. Sprague De Camp and Lin Carter

Conan, following his adventures with the Bamulas is on the run again. Not from a human adversary but from a pride of Lions. He takes shelter in an abandoned castle and soon finds there is more the ruin than meets the eye.  Thousands of lost souls begin to make their presence known before ultimately coalescing into a multi limbed monstrosity and doing battle with a troop of Stygian slavers who have also stumbled upon the deserted keep. The squamous and horrid creature quickly tears all but one of the slavers to shreds, stopping at simply driving that one insane. Conan, realizing he has no desire to finish his life on so ignominious an end, decides that discretion is the better part of valor and since the slavers won't be needing their horses simply takes one and makes his way away from the keep.

This was not a bad story, benefiting from not being long, but really didn't do much to improve the readers view of Conan the man if read immediately following Vale of Lost Women. It also re-used a lot of the tropes that DeCamp & Carter are well known for.. but the monstrosity had me feeling like I was watching a Hyborean age version of John Carpenter's The Thing.

Up Next, "The Snout in the Dark" By Robert E. Howard and L. Sprague DeCamp 

Sunday, August 26, 2012

42. Ace Conan #2.6, The Vale of Lost Women, By Robert E. Howard.

Conan, still living with the Bamulas, rescues a captive northern girl and fights a lovecraftian monstrosity.

I really don't like this story.. I don't want to get into any sort of armchair psychologist sort of thing with it.. I simply don't like it. I consider it to be one of the worst Conan stories, and also one of the worst REH stories I've read. Suffice to say I feel there is a reason why it was never published in the author's lifetime.. as it simply isn't up to the quality of work he normally produced and is also rife with problematic and extremely cynical (even for Howard) views of the world.

That being said, I think that the Characterization of Conan himself is still quite good.. showing his frustration with the Bamulas and other tribes in the Black Kingdoms.. while also showing he is still a man of honor with no truck with rapists or those who force themselves on women.

Up next, The Castle of Terror by L. Sprague DeCamp and Lin Carter

Friday, August 24, 2012

41. Tor Conan #34, Conan at the Demon's Gate by Roland Green.

This story opens years after the previous left off. Conn, Son of Conan is king of Aquilonia and is busy trying to pacify the borders of his land which abut the Pictish Wilderness. A minor nobleman who has been stationed in these newly colonized lands is investigating a cave when he finds something which shocks him. A statue of King Conan, deep in territory where Conan never ruled but also supposedly never visited. This then is a mystery.

The story then jumps backwards in time, back to Conan following the death of Belit and the destruction of the Tigress has been living in the dense jungles for some weeks. He has been taking offerings left to appease him by a superstitious tribe of fisher folk, and generally trying to sort himself out and decide what to do next. It isn't long before this choice is made for him when he runs across a group of Bamula warriors out hunting boar. Recognizing him as Amra, though not quite trusting him, the Bamula's invite him to their village where he quickly begins gaining prominence.

While this is happening various animals and creatures are appearing in the surrounding jungle and Conan and the Bamulas decide to investigate. They discover that there is a gateway, known as the Demon's Gate, which is allowing these creatures access to the lands of the black kingdoms. This gate must be closed, but in the attempt Conan and several Bamula warriors are transported through it into the vast Pictish Wilderness where they must not only fight for their lives against the hordes of barely human Picts but also defeat a Stygian sorcerer who is powering the Demon's Gate, in the Pictish lands looking for an artifact of great power, the dread Crystal of Thraz.

It takes days, requires allies of Bossonians and a few Aqulionians to eventually defeat this sorcerer before their plans can come to fruition and unleash greater evil on the world. The power of the crystal transforms an ordinary stone into a replica of the Cimmerian and imbues it with powers, while dread, are soon able to be controlled by Conan who commands it to cease its attack and go dormant.

At the end of the story, Conan opts to return to the black kingdoms which he has now come to think of as as new home, due mostly to the strength of the warriors and the embraces of the women, and the jungle beer which a man could drink quantities sufficient to float a ship yet never get drunk, ready for more adventures in new lands.

The story then flashes back to the Aqulionian nobleman investigating the statue, he finds out from some extremely aged Bossonians more or less rumors of what had happened.. King Conan leading a band of black skinned warriors against the Picts years ago, and commanding an army of stone statues. The nobleman deduces that, though the statue is obviously some sort of powerful weapon, only one person, King Conn, likely has the ability to control it, and so opts to ignore investigating the mystery any further and forget about the statue as nothing more than a quirk or relic destined for some later purpose. 

 Now this was an interesting book. I felt that in spite of it's strange plot, the demon's gate functioning as a portal between two completely different yet equally dangerous locales, that the writing of Conan himself was very good. Further, the book showed a great deal of details about the Bamulas, a group which got lots of mentions but not a whole lot of time on the page being fleshed out. What emerges is a warrior society which has very well established orders and a good bit to be admired and for Conan to learn from.. while also still not doing much to disabuse him of his more cynical observations of the human condition.

The frame story set during the reign of Conn is interesting but ultimately un-needed.. it didn't need to exist other than to add some sort of permanence to the expedition through the Demon's Gate. It also served to show that, though the people of Conan's day are mostly unaware of the relics of the past which still litter their world, they clearly exist and often have a great potency and capacity for ill use by those so inclined. This book also yet again shows how far flung the machinations of the Stygians really extends. Destabilizing the Hyborean kingdoms, hunting for powerful relics, directly interceding in conflicts to ensure lucrative outcomes.. it all feels as if this is building up to something, vengeance against the Hyboreans maybe, more than likely just an attempt to grab at the remnants left behind when Stygia's sister empire Acheron fell thousands of years before.

Over all though this was an enjoyable and fast read, and was a complete change from the previous Roland Green book that I read set in Argos.

Up next, back to Robert E. Howard, with " The Vale of Lost Women "...

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

40. Ace Conan #2.5, Queen of the Black Coast, part 2, By Robert E. Howard

The finale of Queen of the Black coast picks up some time after the events of Conan the Rebel, many other adventures have unfurled off page in the time which Conan has been with Belit, he's now about 25.

Belit issues orders for her crew to set sail up a nameless river somewhere in the regions south of Kush, before long they find themselves in a dense jungle and come upon a ruined and forgotten city. Belit finds a necklace which induces madness and she and the crew are all soon killed by a winged monster which guards the city.  Conan, riven with grief sets out to destroy the monster, and is on the verge of being killed when the ghost of Belit intervenes and gives him strength. Conan afterwords burns Belits body and the ship. Conan, grief stricken, with his future unknown and dubious chances of survival, sets off alone into the forbidding jungle.

"Queen of the Black Coast" is, in my opinion, one of the best Conan stories which REH wrote.. following very closely on the heals of "Tower of the Elephant" in my rankings. It is a powerful story and does a great deal to advance and build upon Conan as a character. Gone is all pretense of a callow youth out only for adventure and material gain, present is a man seasoned by many battles and great personal loss. Though there have been many women in Conan's life by the time this story takes place, none of them had been as important to him as Belit, nor would any of them be missed in the same way as her.

This will likely be my last update for a while as classes started yesterday and I will be needing to get a handle on them before I continue any of my own personal projects.

Up Next, Conan at the Demon's Gate by Roland Green. Which based on the description on the back, I am decidedly not looking forward to.

Monday, August 20, 2012

39. Bantam Conan #6, Conan the Rebel by Poul Anderson

Conan and Belit are raiding up and down the coasts of Shem, Stygia, Kush and the various other countries which border on the western sea. They are especially interested in raiding Stygian vessels, due to Belits family history with them. Her family were apparently settlers of a sort in Kush but were killed by Stygian evil doers. We learn of this as to also give an idea of the background of Stygia itself, since though it has been mentioned before, this will be the first time readers have actually visited the benighted land itself.

Elsewhere, the Stygian sorcerer Tothapis sets in motion events designed to destroy the piratical pair. He sets bait to lure the pirates into a trap, news of Belits brother, long thought deceased is spread amongst the crews of ships just waiting for them to be predated upon. Once this news has been heard, Conan and Belit set out to Stygia to rescue her missing family member.

Along the way they run afoul of prophecies of one sort or another, Conan becomes the wielder of a legendary axe, and they take a ride on a flying boat. Eventually they deal with the traps, and foil the plans of Tothapis, and beat an escape from Stygia and continue on with their piratical adventuring.

I really didn't like this book, which is a shame, as I typically really like Poul Anderson. It doesn't feel like Conan, and I really dislike that an author as seasoned as Anderson did something as amatuerish as inserting his story in between chapters of one of Robert E. Howard's stories. Obviously he wanted to make use of Belit, and for reasons to be revealed in my next review had to do it this way, but his way of going about using her feels really poorly executed. The best bits about it are the geographical details it gives about Stygia, and the fact that it shows Conan yet again interfering with this necromantic kingdom's plans of world domination. Though it's a slow burn, sporadically cropping up, it becomes the dominant theme of the Meta-Series that Conan is obviously destined to destroy Stygia during his lifetime.

The story is boring, it makes use of the "Bandit run" trope which I've commented on before, it introduces some extremely strange elements which feel like they would have been more at place in a Thongor story (the flying ship), and over all just doesn't feel like a Conan story at all.. I hate to say it, but this one kept my interest about as much as the average Steve Perry book does. It's a shame, as if Anderson had given us a story more akin to his Viking books (Mother of Kings, Broken Sword, Hrolf Kraki's Saga, the Last Viking, War of the Gods) instead of a book which feels more like a pastiche of Burroughs or Lin Carter.. I think it would have been wonderful. As it was, it was forgettable at best, and an annoyance for breaking up the totally superior REH story at worst.

If you want another really good review of this book and it's problems, check out CROM!'s review from June.

Friday, August 17, 2012

38. Ace Conan #2.5, Queen of the Black Coast, part 1, By Robert E. Howard

As with most of Howard's stories I will only be giving a quick overview of the events as much better reviews are available elsewhere online, this story is split in half due to Poul Anderson's Conan the Rebel falling in between Chapters of the story.

Conan, runs afoul of the law in Argos and has to make a hasty escape. He gains passage aboard a trade ship, The Argus, which is headed south to Kush. On their way to Kush they are attacked by Belit, the Pirate Queen, and her black skinned reavers. Conan manages to join their crew through his prowess and because Belit is quickly taken by him. Soon the two are lovers and Conan is functioning as her right hand during the raiding expeditions.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

37. Tor Conan #23, Conan the Guardian by Roland J. Green

This story picks up more or less where the last left off, Conan and his free companions are now in Argos after having barely escaped the fall out of the political power struggle in Ophir. The Argossians are not particularly interested in allowing a group of free-lances into their country, and it requires hefty "tolls" in order to get the gears of Argossian bureaucracy turning.  Eventually, following a tussle with a river monster, Conan manages to get his companions into Argos, and gets them gainful employment.

However, it isn't long until Conan yet again finds himself embroiled in a local power struggle, and has to continually dodge the officious bureaucrats of Argos who wish nothing more than to expel him and his companions. After several weeks spent searching for the cause of the disturbances surrounding his employer, Conan succeeds in alleviating the problem. For his efforts he is made a citizen of Argos, and retroactively made a member of the elite Guardians of Argos.. before just as swiftly losing his status as a Guardian, all through the effects of bureaucratic paperwork.

He opts to stay in Argos while some of his companions chose to continue onwards to other locations, but it's unlikely he will be here long with the judicial system seemingly constantly out to get him, it's only a matter of time before a misunderstanding finally compels him to leave.

This wasn't a bad book, but it wasn't great either. Roland J. Green seems to turn in that sort of book consistently, neither bad nor good, but simply existing. As the finale of the series depicting Conan's journey southwards, I felt it did it's job adequately, but I was disappointed that the writer didn't attempt to link the story closer to the one which follows it, "Queen of the Black Coast". I presume that, they simply didn't want to make it to concrete in case there was ever the option of adding another story in between.

Up next is, at least part of a Robert E. Howard story, perhaps one of the most important Conan stories, Queen of the Black Coast.

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.

Monday, May 28, 2012

33. Tor Conan #26 - Conan: The Relentless by Roland Green

Conan's story picks up with him entering the Border Kingdoms, briefly recapping the events which transpired on snow devil glacier and Conan's run in with the Ice Worm, and contemplates joining a bandit group to raid a caravan. Conan hears the bandits speaking of a certain personage with whom he is familiar. Raihna. This woman, whom Conan had last seen during an adventure in the Illbars mountains (Conan the Valiant, also by Green) directly preceding his exile from Turan (Conan and the Spider-God, DeCamp) and his return to Cimmeria (Conan the Valorous, John Roberts) is apparently in command of the guards of the soon to be raided caravan. Now Conan is curious as to what this woman is doing so far from her typical haunts, and aims to find out. He turns down the bandits and opts instead to side with Raihna and her caravan guards, soon fighting his way through the bandits to her side in battle.

Before long they are journeying together, and telling one another of the things which have occurred in the year since they parted company. It doesn't take long before the two adventurers are embroiled in court intrigues with the pauper lord of the border realms, King Eloikis. Though Conan wonders what in the border realms is worth calling a kingdom, the people themselves seem proud in spite of their deprivation. Raihna and Conan are informed that the King's got a problem, and It seems one of the local Counts, and a pair of demon summoning wizards are involved. Eloikis wishes the adventurers to deal with this problem for him in the most expeditious way possible.

Over the course of the next 200 pages or so, Conan and Raihna find themselves involved in a series of incidents which without fail leave Conan ample opportunity, and energy to cavort with his female counterpart. They engage in all manner of exploits, culminating in rescuing the King's daughter, and his new grandson. Over the course of the story Raihna realizes that she has come to love one of the King's guards and opts to stay in the Border Kingdom, poor as it may be, with him rather than continue southwards with Conan. She takes her position in the new Queen's court, and bids Conan Adieu as he turns his sights to the sunny south once more.

In the end, this was not a bad little story. As with most of the Pastiches, it was to long for the scanty plot which it was built around, and like most it would have been better served to come to the 130-150 page mark rather than the obligatory 270+ Page mark. The story was especially interesting in that it reintroduced a character we had seen previously, adding a lot to her character, and then wraps her story up with a nice conclusion.  The story also was very easy to place chronologically due to the author taking steps to give clear markers as to where the story fit. Plot wise there wasn't a whole lot going on that we haven't seen before. It felt like mostly what it was, filler, but decent filler rather than horrid filler. So far it's the second Roland J. Green that I've read and I'm just not seeing what is supposedly so offensive about the guy's writing. Sure, he's not John Maddox Roberts or even Robert Jordan.. but he's far superior to Leonard Carpenter or Steve Perry.

Up next is Conan the Savage by Leonard Carpenter. 

Saturday, April 28, 2012

32. Ace Conan #2.4 - "Lair of the Iceworm" by Lin Carter and L. Sprague DeCamp

In this story we find Conan once more turning his sights towards the south. Roughly backtracking over the same path he followed heading North, Conan aims to return to the Border Kingdom, and from there to lands he has yet to explore. On the path, Conan comes across a young woman beset by men little better than savages. He rescues her, comes to find that she is in fact a Hyperborean, and then spends the night with her. During their repose, the girl goes missing, Conan sets out to find her, but discovers only her corpse. His mind reels with the implications, which he manner of her death portend. Only one creature, half legendary, in all the northlands kills it's victims in the manner of her demise. The dreaded Remora, a vampiric ice-worm of terrible strength. If one of these creatures is loose, Conan feels it must be dispatched quickly lest it create untold havoc. Without to much difficulty Conan manages to track the tremendous worm to its lair, slaying it, however, is a trickier business. Suffice to say, the doughty Cimmerian manages the task and makes good his escape from the horror's demesne. Once more heading south, Conan puts the grotesque episode behind him. On to warm climes, silks, wine, sultry women and adventure!

This is, much like the earlier "The Thing in the Crypt" is, essentially a much abridged re-write, courtesy of L. Sprague Decamp (Who's hallmarks are all over this story), of one of Lin Carter's unpublished Thongor stories. In this case, "The Demon of the Snows" which is contained in "The Year's best Fantasy stories #6". This series, which Lin Carter edited, contains a number of Thongor Stories which were mined for components to make Conan Pastiches. Personally I found Carter's original story, to easily be the better of the two. Unfortunately for DeCamp, his style of writing, often twee and very tweedy, just doesn't fit the style which REH developed and Lin Carter can sometimes manage to emulate. Combining DeCamp's ludicrously professorial tone, E.G. having Conan discuss evolution and comparative religion or multiplication tables in the midst of an action scene, are extremely jarring when they pop up in one of the DeCamp edited REH stories. But they are extremely detrimental to the health of the stories penned by a weaker writer such as Carter. Over all, not a bad story, but it's just an A-Incident-B story used to bridge a gap, and that pretty much shows.

Friday, April 27, 2012

31. Ace Conan #2.3 - "The Frost Giant's Daughter" - Robert E. Howard

After a long long hiatus, I'm going to try and get back to work on this project. What better way to start than with the story which, arguably, some say is the very first Conan story chronologically, but for my tastes, fits best here.

I feel that for the purposes of this Chronology which we are following, Conan is still, despite all of his adventures, a fairly young man. He is also a very frustrated man. For a brief re-cap of the last few volumes, Having allowed his appetites, fists and mouth to get him into trouble in Turan, and cost him his captaincy in the Turanian Army, Conan headed west and north for many days, eventually traveling back into his native Cimmeria. Finding the welcome not quite what he expected, and finding that the looming troubles of the south had even managed to follow him there, Conan has set off north once more, Intent on visiting the Aesir whom he had adventured with so much earlier in the series. "The Frost Giant's Daughter" - By Robert E. Howard, picks up some time after this revelrie. The Aesir + Conan have gone out to raid their perpetual enemies, the Vanir. In the process, Conan is tempted by the daughter of the frost giants, and allows his lust and anger at her to nearly lead him to his death at the hands of her brothers.

The story is something of an oddity in itself. It was rejected by Weird Tales on first publication, so Howard re-wrote the story to feature a character named Amra of Akbitana and re-submitted it under the name of 'Gods of the north'. Needless to say, this story is probably one of the most anthologized Conan stories now, even though, in my opinion, it doesn't really do a whole lot for his image, and actually goes some way towards the common (commonly wrong!) assumption that Conan is just a rampaging death machine like some sort of prehistoric Hulk. This is perhaps why I prefer this later placement, it allows for his shift in attitude to be explained by the hardships and frustrations which he has faced during his trip back north.

I'm not going to go into any more detail about the story itself, if you are a Conan fan and you haven't read this story yet, then clearly you need to rectify this oversight. It's been adapted by Marvel (Multiple times), Dark Horse, and is contained in its original form in the following: 

The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian: The Original Adventures of the Greatest Sword and Sorcery Hero of All Time! by Robert E. Howard

 So instead of boring you with a review of something about 90% of my readers have read already, lets just listen to some music instead. 

Thursday, April 26, 2012