Tuesday, June 28, 2005

The Bloody Crown of Conan

Today’s Review is for Robert E. Howard’s The Bloody Crown of Conan. This is the second book in a series of reprints of REH’s complete Conan stories. Thank God!

Before these books were published, you’d have a hell of a time finding any Conan stories that were actually written by Howard. Sure, you could find the innumerable pastiches and “posthumous collaborations,” but none of them can possibly compare with Howard’s own breathless style. And please, don’t even mention those crappy movies starring the gubernator. Ughh!

This book and its predeccesor give the reader a real sense of Conan as he was truly meant to be: a crafty, strong, and cunning barbarian with a strong moral code despite his lapses into piratery, banditry, and thievery. Most other versions of Conan are two-dimensional: a brainless barbarian who hacks and slashes his way through anything in his path regardless of the consequences.

And Howard’s style is superb. He can maintain the level of action, and reader interest, throughout an entire story, whether it’s short or novel length. “The Hour of the Dragon” is credited as the only Conan novel, and it keeps up a roller coaster pace as Conan jumps from one adventure to another while trying to regain his lost crown. In “The People of the Black Circle,” Conan demonstrates his peculiar morality as he helps an enemy avenge her brother’s death. In “A Witch Shall Be Born,” which is probably the least satisfying of the stories, Conan helps a young queen reclaim her throne from her evil twin sister who is a witch.

The only thing I don’t really like about these books are the appendices. These contain early drafts and synopses of the stories in the volume along with a few drafts of unpublished stories. They may be useful to the scholar, but to the casual reader, they’re just a waste of space that would be better filled with the Conan stories from the upcoming volume 3.

I give it 4 yo-yos.

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