Lord of Samarcand and Other Adventure Tales of the Old Orient (The Works of Robert E. Howard)
by Robert Ervin Howard (Author), Rusty Burke (Editor)
Publisher: Bison Books (April 1, 2005)
Later in his writing career, Robert E. Howard (creator of Conan, Kull, and Solomon Kane), apparently became more and more interested in history, and more specifically, in writing historical fiction. He was apparently working more on that sort of writing prior to his untimely demise, and reading this collection just reemphasizes how much the world lost when Howard took his life.
In the stories in this collection, Howard’s focus is on the Crusades. He moves back and forth in that time period, but there is clearly something about the clash of Western Christendom, Islam, and the nomadic tribes of
Howard himself acknowledges that these stories are much darker than some of his other works; many of the protagonists are not heroes, but are instead reasonably selfish bastards who, if they end up doing a good deed, do it mostly for selfish reasons. There are a few exceptions, but by and large, these are not stories about nice people. Nor are they all happy stories—tragedy, death, and failure crop up with reasonable regularity. It’s not all sadness and loss, but the stories definitely have a darker tone than some of his earlier works. I really enjoyed them.
Howard does a wonderful job of bringing his characters and the world they inhabit to life in a vivid and exciting fashion. While some of his historical details are probably a bit off, there aren’t any major glaring errors or oddities. The same dark humor and fast-paced action that is found in his Conan stories are still here, though the violence is sometimes even darker and grimmer than in the tales of the barbarian turned king. Some of the earlier stories have a very Conan-eqsue feel to them, including one story with a cult and the old temple of some forgotten god that could have been lifted right out of Hyboria.
If I have a complaint about these stories (and I have very few), it would be that many of the various protagonists in these stories do start to blend together a bit. There are three to five different “grim European knights/warriors exiled from their homeland”, and after a few stories, I started to lose track of who was who. I suppose it would have made little sense to have the same character survive five centuries of crusades, but it did get a bit frustrating, on occasion.
Still, it was a minor quibble in an otherwise wonderful series of stories. Howard continues to impress.
Major reading projects now on hold, as I am moving soon.