The Conquering Sword of Conan (Conan of Cimmeria, Book 3) (Paperback)
Publisher: Del Rey (November 29, 2005)
This book is the final in a series of three collections from Del Ray (the other two being Coming of Conan the Cimmerian and Bloody Crown of Conan) that collect the entire corpus of Robert E. Howard’s writings about his now well-known, if often misunderstood, barbarian hero. This volume contains the last stories written by REH about Conan, including Beyond the Black River and Red Nails, which are apparently (and deservedly) two of the more famous of the Conan stories.
As a recent, but avid, fan of Howard’s writing, it was almost inevitable that I would like these stories, but I have to say that this really is Howard at his finest. The stories are beautiful in their writing, intricate and interesting in their structure, and really dive deeply into some of Howard’s themes about civilization versus barbarism in a very interesting way. Beyond the Black River brings Conan into a Howardian version of the French and Indian war, and the Black Stranger follows up the tale, after a fashion. Red Nails takes a somewhat different turn, trapping Conan and Valeria inside a walled city that borrows a great deal from Mesoamerican culture and trappings. The Servants of Bit-Yakin and the Man Eaters of Zamboula are more traditional Conan tales, and while not quite as strong or as interesting as the other stories, are still decent, fun, and well-written reads.
As part of a generation whose first impressions of Conan were formed by a future California Governator (which, I admit, does lead to some great jokes about him becoming a king by his own hand), it’s been very revealing to get to know the real Conan. While I still have a soft spot in my heart for Conan the Austrian, he really is nothing like the original character that is far more interesting, thoughtful, and moving than that movie would lead one to believe.
Anyone with the most remote interest in fantasy literature should be reading these collections; so should anyone interested in a good story. Howard is amazing. That’s all I’ve got to say for now.