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Conan of the Isles (#12) by L. Sprague De…

Conan of the Isles (#12) (original 1968; edition 1980)

by L. Sprague De Camp, Lin Carter (Author)

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378428,549 (3.35)1
Title:Conan of the Isles (#12)
Authors:L. Sprague De Camp
Other authors:Lin Carter (Author)
Info:Ace Books (1980), Mass Market Paperback, 189 pages
Collections:discarded, J's books
Tags:J's, fiction, fantasy, sword & Sorcery, Conan, Ancient setting, 1960s authorship

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Conan of the Isles by L. Sprague De Camp (1968)



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Although L. Sprague de Camp et al. did a good job of filling in the gaps that Conan’s creator Robert E. Howard left behind in the character’s history, I feel that they should’ve done one of two things after “Conan the Conqueror”:

1) Condensed their ideas into one book instead of three

2) Write no more and let “Conan the Conqueror” have the final word

My reasoning for option one is that the last three books in the original series of twelve are good in parts but average on the whole. One aspect that particularly bugs me is the recurring references to Conan’s past adventures, all of which are featured in the earlier books.

“Conan of the Isles” at one stage dedicates two paragraphs to needless reminiscences. The opening line to the first of these paragraphs aptly sums up how the authors rely on this weak method of writing:

“Again and again they recalled the deeds of Conan …”

It’s like certain TV series that come to, say, their fourth season, and the writers decided to feature one episode that consists largely of flashbacks from the first three series. It’s cheating the viewer of a new episode, other than snippets used to connect the flashbacks.

Anyway, the original Conan series would’ve been better served had those last three books been condensed into one novel with all the references to past glories omitted, along with the other weak parts, of which there are enough to remind the reader that no one writes Conan like Robert E. Howard.

Alternatively, regarding my second point, one reason why it may have been even better to not have followed on at all after “Conan the Conqueror” is because the ending to that story is very definitive and it would’ve closed Conan’s career in his high prime and glory. Another reason is that “Conan the Conqueror” is pure Howard.

Anyway, things are as they are, thus Conan fans can take “COTI” or leave it. It does have its merits, though it fails to grip me. I do like the idea that Conan is still a force to be reckoned with in his early sixties, though I dislike the idea of him giving up his kingship having fought so hard for it.

Another gripe: now we are of course expected to suspend belief of many things when it comes to fantasy writing, but it struck me as beyond ridiculous that Conan could learn a new language during a few days spent with a harlot. Neither she nor he had ever heard the other’s language before, yet in about five days Conan has mastered this tongue well enough to negotiate with the district’s prince of thieves, who also manages to understand every word spoken by the foreigner Conan. ( )
  PhilSyphe | Feb 25, 2016 |
Back in the day, I went through a sword and sorcery phase and had owned all 12 of the Ace Conan paperbacks. They were nice paperbacks, with Boris cover art and all that, but the phase ended and one day I needed space on the ol' shelves and I ended up getting rid of all of them but this one. Conan of the Isles was the story of Conan's retirement. He hands over the throne of Aquilonia to his son Conn and heads off on a nice Atlantic cruise. ... Okay, so Conan's idea of a nice cruise is to recruit a crew of pirates and sail west to stop some evil sorcerers from mystically snatching away innocent Hyborians. Anyway, rereading this again now that my own hair is turning gray, I was a bit surprised how unsophisticated the story was. It was still fun, sure, but less of a classic than I had remembered. Oh, well. just because I demoted it to waiting room material, don't let that stop you from enjoying it.
--J. ( )
  Hamburgerclan | Dec 24, 2012 |
The “Conan Saga,” as L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter imagined it, concludes with this novel. Conan’s story, as reported in the fictitious Nemedian Chronicles, ends when he passes out of the knowledge of the Hyborian Lands. De Camp and Carter based the novel on vague hints Conan’s creator Robert E. Howard left in a letter, but they fly off into some odd speculative territory and create what must count as one of the strangest of all Conan pastiches. It doesn’t feel much like Howard’s Conan, but it contains some of the most unabashed fun sword-and-sorcery that de Camp and Carter wrote for the series.

The story follows upon the other pastiches that de Camp and Carter wrote about Conan after he seized the crown of the greatest kingdom of the Hyborian Age, Aquilonia. As the action begins, Conan has ruled for over twenty years and now nears his mid-sixties. After the death of Queen Zenobia in childbirth, Conan wearies of ruling Aquilonia. A sudden attack of mysterious “Red Shadows” spirits away Count Trocero and many other people of Aquilonia. In a dream, Conan sees the prophet Epemitreus, who tells him he must cross the Western Ocean to stop the evil of the Red Shadows. The Prophet gives Conan a phoenix-shaped talisman to aid him. Conan abdicates in favor of his twenty-year-old son Conn and secretly heads to the west on his last adventure. In the Argossean port of Messantia he meets an old companion from his days with the Brachan pirates, Sigurd of Vanaheim. King Ariosto of Argos, who has also suffered from the Red Shadows, approaches Conan in a tavern to offer to fund his voyage over the Western Ocean. Conan, under his old guise of Amra the Lion, picks a tough crew and sails with Sigurd on the ship the Red Lion. What they find out in the Western Ocean will put them face-to-face with the last remnants of sunken Atlantis, Demons from the Darkness, and a city of sacrifice, dragons, and evil labyrinths.

The two veteran writers conjure up a breezy fantasy adventure with a pulpy sense of excitement, but Conan of the Isles puts to the test the reader’s taste in post-Howard Conan. Which is more important: adherence to Howard’s spirit, or fun adventure? If you can have both, that’s wonderful. But I would prefer to have a good sword-and-sorcery adventure instead a poor, boring, and slavish attempt to imitate Howard. You will never mistake Conan of the Isles for genuine Howardian Conan, but you won’t mistake it for a boring novel either. The plot barely pauses to take a breath: like a movie serial or an Edgar Rice Burroughs adventure, this is “One Damn Thing After Another.” Where a Conan novel in the 1980s and '90s series would develop a story around different character subplots, interactions, and conspiracies, Conan of the Isles just points Conan in a direction and sends him on his gory way. The novel flies along a linear path: monster, fight, escape, rescue, monster, sorcerer, duel, escape, rescue, etc. Imaginative weirdness appears throughout. Character drama takes a back seat—the only supporting characters are Sigurd and Metemphoc the master thief—and action hurtles nonstop across the page.

Thankfully, most of the action clicks. Conan’s horrific contest against the horde of huge rats ranks as one of the best-written suspense sequences in a pastiche novel. The navel battle scenes are also exciting, and plenty of giant monsters show up to threaten our aging hero. (I personally adore big monsters, so the book earns extra points with me.) The finale is just what you want from a fantasy adventure: constant action, monsters, magic, horror, and ironic turnabout.

The personal interests of the two authors emerge strongly; more than any other Conan piece they authored, Conan of the Isles belongs to de Camp and Carter. Carter brings the pulpy delirium and the nonstop rush of insane events. De Camp provides a fascination with the Atlantis legend and the origins of myths in general, as well as his “logical fantasy” approach to mythic events. He even suggests that Conan will become the basis for the Aztec myth of Quetzalcoatl, “the Feathered Serpent” who sailed out of the west to their lands.

Where Conan of the Isles deviates from Howard’s vision is in its pseudo-scientific gadgetry and the outlandish culture of Antillia. Howard made the Hyborian Age realistic, injecting historical cultures into a hodgepodge fantasy setting and adding doses of supernaturalism. De Camp and Carter, however, toss Conan out of the Hyborian Age and into lands beyond knowledge, and all convention collapses into a science-fantasy parade of peculiarity. The Antillians sail impractical dragon boats, use “super metals” like orichalcum, wear breathing helmets, don glass armor, hurl stun-gas grenades, and wield crystal swords—Jack Kirby would’ve loved to illustrate this! Their culture has hints of meso-American Indians (a de Camp touch, based on the pseudo-scientific nineteenth-century bestseller Atlantis: The Antediluvian World by Ignatius Donnelly, who theorized an Atlantean origin for Central and South American empires), but otherwise the Antillians might have leaped out of one of Burroughs’s Martian novels.

The writers treat the older Conan with admirable realism. They pile on reminders of the past, which gives a sense of closure for the final story of Conan’s career (at least in de Camp’s chronology). There’s also an effective moment of reflection for the hero: “Now that [Zenobia] was gone, he found himself often thinking of her, in moods of black depression that were unlike him. While she lived, he had taken her devotion as his due and thought little of it, as is the way of the barbarian. Now he regretted the words he had not said to her and the favors he had not done for her.” Conan has matured; facing the approach of the “Long Night” of death gives him a sense of regret and loss appropriate for someone his age. Howard himself would have approved of this touch of reflective darkness.

The novel’s major flaw is the authors’ predilection for overstuffing their prose, possibly to imitate Howard. This is especially noticeable in the dialogue: Conan acts overly chatty, and Sigurd shouts too many “salty dog” speeches. Here’s a good example of the often heavy-handed writing: “The northman grinned broadly and gave a bellow of joy that would have summoned a hippogriff in the mating season had one been within earshot.” A hippogriff is an unlikely Hyborian animal. (One of the authors must have had Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso in mind, since they use both the name “Ariosto” and Ariosto’s invention, the hippogriff.) In places, their word choice falls flat or else they strain too hard to use an obscure term. I have never seen anyone use the word “decardiate”—to remove the heart—in a work of fiction before, and I doubt I will see it again. In places the plot moves too fast, and de Camp and Carter rely on coincidences (such as Conan running into Sigurd and Ariosto in the same bar) that seem a bit much.

You can’t expect all of it to makes sense or adhere to traditional Conan, but at least this pastiche lives up to the sword-and-sorcery obligation to entertain with fast, fun, imaginative action. Compared to many of the later Conan novels, Conan of the Isles is fast, fun, and imaginative indeed. ( )
1 vote Z-Ryan | Jul 2, 2008 |
Even though Howard did not write any of the stories in this particular volume, it's his character and creation, and part of the ongoing series of his works, so I'm including him as the primary author to keep it in the series. ( )
  TadAD | Jun 30, 2008 |
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» Add other authors (21 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
L. Sprague De Campprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Carter, Linmain authorall editionsconfirmed
DeCamp, L. Spraguemain authorall editionsconfirmed
Oberländer, BeatrizTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vallejo, BorisCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0441116817, Paperback)

As the Red Terror, a bizarre, magical dark force whose victims disappear without a trace, descends upon Aquilonia, King Conan sets out to destroy its source, evil, conquest-hungry sorcerer-priests from across the sea. Reissue.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:25:08 -0400)

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