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The Bloody Crown of Conan by Robert E.…
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This is a compilation of a short novel, a novella and a short story. The novel - Hour of the Dragon - is what I bought it for. To be honest it's not a very good novel, or at least not structured like one, it's very episodic like a bunch of vignettes (that a short story would have used as a centerpiece) chained together. It's cool as a highlights reel of the various types of adventuring you could do in the Hyborian Age setting, though. The novella, People of the Black Circle, is probably the best part, it's got a lot of interesting magic going on and a complex plot with multiple factions where everything ties together instead of being a loose assortment of stuff that has nothing to do with each other like Hour of the Dragon.

The writing is classic Howard, vivid and brutal, with an almost breakneck pacing. There's a mass battle, brawl, sword fight, demon summoning, sudden yet inevitable betrayal, some kind of action, on like every other page. Readers accustomed to the glacial pace of George Martin's later books, might find themselves wanting seat belts. Conan is not exactly a deep character, but the original Howard vision of him is an interesting contrast to the popular perception... he's cynical, worldly, cunning, pragmatic and, most surprisingly of all... cautious almost to the point of paranoia. My favorite "original flavor Conan" moment is in the penultimate moment of A Witch Shall Be Born, when a giant demon has burst loose from the temple of the city that Conan has led an army to conquer. Conan doesn't fight it himself, he orders a company of his archers to shoot it down. (And this actually works.) ( )
  jhudsui | May 17, 2015 |
The Bloody Crown of Conan is the second of three books that collect all of the stories of Conan of Cimmeria by Robert E. Howard, along with some unpublished drafts and miscellania. This book contains three stories of significant length. A draft of a fourth story is nearly complete- close enough to be satisfying and contain an entire plot arc. Some notes about R. E. Howard's creation of Conan and his world (by Howard scholar Patrice Louinet) appear at the end.

I will rate each of the stories separately below:

"The People of the Black Circle" - 4.5 stars - The king of Vendhya is slain by the magic of the Black Seers of Yimsha, evil sorcerers who dwell atop a mountain. The king's sister, now Devi (Queen) of Vendhya, plans to exact vengeance upon them. She seeks to compel Conan, leader of a band of Afghuli warriors, to assist her by holding seven of his men hostage. Her plans are foiled when Conan kidnaps her. Conan's escape is complicated by the involvement of the Black Seers' treacherous acolyte Khemsa, and ultimately by the Black Seers themselves. "The People of the Black Circle" is an action-packed story that provides an in-depth look at the magic of the Hyborean Age. The involvement of four distinct sides (Vendhya, the Afghulis, the rebellious Khemsa, and the Black Seers) as well as the magical tricks and traps awaiting those who attempt to conquer Yimsha, give the story a number of twists and turns.

"The Hour of the Dragon" - 4.5 stars - Conan rules as the beloved king of Aquilonia. In order to depose him, four conspirators recover a magic gemstone, the Heart of Ahriman, and use it resurrect the ancient sorcerer Xaltotun. With Xaltotun's assistance, they incapacitate Conan and crush his armies. Conan is imprisoned by Xaltotun, but he escapes with the aid of the slave girl Zenobia. Conan learns that the gem is the key to defeating Xaltotun and seeks to recover it, but it has been stolen by a priest of Stygia. Conan follows the gem into the dark temples of Stygia, so that he may reclaim his crown. This is the longest of Robert E. Howard's Conan stories and has a more political flavor than most others. Though Conan still goes on adventures in person, he is a king whose responsibilities and commitments have tempered his free-spirited barbarian nature.

"A Witch Shall be Born" - 2 stars - In the city of Khauran, Queen Taramis is imprisoned by her twin sister, Salome, who impersonates her and permits a group of mercenaries to take the city. Conan, captain of the Queen's Guard, realizes that Salome is not Taramis, but he is defeated and crucified on a cross in the desert, far from the city. A band of mercenaries rescues him, and Conan vows to free the city from Salome's sadistic rule. Overall, a rather mediocre and uninspired story- we have little understanding of the mentality or motives of the antagonists, and their downfall seems not remarkable but an inevitable result of their unjust rule. The scene with Conan on the cross is the most compelling and memorable part of the story.

The notes in the back include an unpublished draft of a fourth story, "Drums of Tombalku" - 3 stars - Amalric is an adventurer who rode with Conan through the desert. The story opens after he became separated from Conan during an attack by the local nomads. He stumbles across a dying girl, who claims to be from a nearby city, of which he has never heard. He rescues her and travels with her to this secluded place, whose inhabitants live in a dream-like trance, in the shadow of a monster that lives in a red tower and occasionally eats an inhabitant. This story feels a bit more like Lovecraftian horror than most Howard stories, and oddly, has only a small role for Conan. It is not bad, but it leaves many important issues unaddressed and questions unanswered. Also, while most of the Conan stories are at least a little bit racist to a modern reader, "Drums of Tombalku" is probably more racist than the others in this volume.

On that point, it's worth noting that these stories were written almost 100 years ago, and they feature a racist viewpoint (assigning traits, especially negative ones, to entire groups of people based on skin color or national origin), as well as an objectified view of women (as generally weak, in need of male guidance/protection, and sexy). In order to enjoy the Conan stories, it may be necessary to set aside some of our modern political and moral judgment/insight and understand the stories as products of their time. If this is not enjoyable for you, you might opt for more modern fantasy instead, which is more likely to be race-neutral and to feature strong female characters.

The book features a lengthy essay at the end, "Hyperborian Genesis," by Howard scholar Patrice Louinet. It is essentially a combined biography of Howard's life (focusing on the years when he wrote Conan stories) and an analysis of how market forces (pulp magazine acceptances and rejections, mostly) influenced the direction and content of the Conan canon. I found it worthwhile.

Overall, I enjoyed these stories as an influential example of early sword and sorcery fantasy. One fun aspect is to see where Conan turns up in each story- he might be anything from a king to a penniless wanderer, and sometimes he isn't introduced until the story is already well underway. Other fantasy authors have undoubtedly surpassed Howard in terms of skill at building rich and compelling fantasy worlds, dynamic characters, or intricate plots. However, there is something raw, powerful, and immediate in the best of Howard's writing- an elusive quality that doesn't appear in a more structured and cerebral work like those by Tolkien, Martin, and Rothfuss. Conan has a straighforwardness, a self-reliance, a self-assuredness, that set him apart from most other heroes, in fantasy or any genre. It is either for these moments- or simply to enjoy an escapist fantasy tale with sword fighting and rescuing damsels in distress- that can make it worthwhile to read Howard's work. ( )
  jrissman | Feb 22, 2015 |
By Crom! These adventures stand the test of time and provided a nice escape after UM Conference - side note - I had a hard time trying to to picture Conan's foes as certain speakers at the Conference microphone. ( )
  revslick | Jun 16, 2014 |
fantasy, adventure ( )
  daverollins | Jan 16, 2012 |
Oh, REH. You are, most definitely, the most satisfying escapist author I have ever read. This collection includes "The People of the Black Circle," "The Hour of the Dragon," and "A Witch Shall Be Born," along with a collection of miscellany which was too in-depth for me to read (although I'm pleased that someone has exerted so much scholarly attention on Howard's work). ( )
  ben_h | Apr 6, 2011 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0345461525, Paperback)

In his hugely influential and tempestuous career, Robert E. Howard created the genre that came to be known as sword and sorcery–and brought to life one of fantasy’s boldest and most enduring figures: Conan the Cimmerian–reaver, slayer, barbarian, king.

This lavishly illustrated volume gathers together three of Howard’s longest and most famous Conan stories–two of them printed for the first time directly from Howard’s typescript–along with a collection of the author’s previously unpublished and rarely seen outlines, notes, and drafts. Longtime fans and new readers alike will agree that The Bloody Crown of Conan merits a place of honor on every fantasy lover’s bookshelf.

Amid the towering crags of Vendhya, in the shadowy citadel of the Black Circle, Yasmina of the golden throne seeks vengeance against the Black Seers. Her only ally is also her most formidable enemy–Conan, the outlaw chief.

Toppled from the throne of Aquilonia by the evil machinations of an undead wizard, Conan must find the fabled jewel known as the Heart of Ahriman to reclaim his crown . . . and save his life.

A malevolent witch of evil beauty. An enslaved queen. A kingdom in the iron grip of ruthless mercenaries. And Conan, who plots deadly vengeance against the human wolf who left him in the desert to die.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:14:25 -0400)

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Presents three of the author's Conan stories, "The people of the black circle," "The hour of the dragon," and "A witch shall be born," together with his notes, outlines, and drafts on other Conan writings.

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