Shivesh's Reviews > Conan the Invincible

Conan the Invincible by Robert Jordan
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's review
Oct 01, 2008

really liked it
bookshelves: fantastical
Recommended for: sword and sorcery junkies, savage barbarians
Read in September, 2008 , read count: 1

Robert Jordan is best known for his Wheel of Time series, but recent bad press on that work plus his untimely death has cast a pall over that series for me. From what I understand it could have been a legendary fantasy epic, a Tolkien for our time (although there is no way he or anyone would be able to match Lord of the Rings). But I have heard much about Jordan's descriptive style and rhetoric. Plus I love Conan. Put 'em together and we have Jordan's first Conan novel from 1982, taking a tale from Conan's youth trade as a thief of Shadizar, a corrupt little city near Aquilonia, his future kingdom. This adventure begins when our young hero is hired by a disguised wizard to retrieve a treasure of jewels, which have been stolen from the King by a necromancer in the wilderness. Conan, fearing nothing, chases the treasure to the shadowed fortress of the evil sorcerer, which is guarded by thousands of reptile creatures 'from an age before Man.' On the way, our hero encounters plenty of naked women, an insecure bandit princess and her group of raiders, a Kingdom guard, primitive hillmen and foul sorcery.

This being Jordan's first Conan book you can tell he is gaining his feel for the character, who after all an icon in the fantasy genre. However, there is a huge difference in most Conan fare - this is the down and dirty fantastical, the so-called "sword & sorcery" epic. There are no elves or dwarves or magical beings to be seen. Mostly, the magic comes from evil sorcerors conducting terrifying spells using the blood of newborns and the horn of a unicorn, etc., so all things magical are to be distrusted. Indeed, it goes without saying that women are openly objectified in this genre: they are either seductresses or innocent waifs. There is no major complexity in the story or characters - they are archetypes of stuff told long before Howard conjured up Conan the Cimmerian. But these archetypes work well when the rules governing their world are obeyed and and stereotypes stay true to form. In fact it is quite entertaining.

The only real heroic power to be admired is the cold steel of the barbarian and his twisted sense of honor. In 'Conan the Invincible', our hero somehow sticks to his sense of honor throughout his adventures. Repeatedly, Jordan evokes Conan's various oaths and vows, and stays consistent in keeping them, to the very end of the book.

We know, of course, that Conan triumphs over all adversaries by the end of this story. His future is even hinted at by other characters, who remark that the barbarian will one day be a general, or 'mayhap a King'. Conan is nonplussed. He is a thief and will remain a thief, he says. But we all know better.

And thus, Jordan succeeds quite well in the bounds he has set for Conan. Following the tone and temper of Howard's original Conan opus, Jordan gives us another great story in a fantastical firmament already well populated by legends and stories. His writing is quite good here, filled with great imagery, description and savagery. However, he does stoop to telling, not showing. He frequently describes things as 'evil', instead of showing us why it is evil. For example, the necromancer's chamber 'permeates evil'. Well, okay. Not only that, some of the effects later on in the book regarding a god-demon and green smoke kind of reminds us of wacky and cheese-tastic '80s special effects... Hey, kind of like Arnold's movies! So this story fills the niche, and does it nicely.

We can only have so many expectations for a book that was undoubtedly dashed off quickly to the publisher in order to make the rent on time. In that spirit, this is truly a pulp fantasy novel of the best kind! For setting the right expectations and meeting them, Jordan gets 4 stars for his first Conan book.

If you are into high fantasy only, this may not be for you. If you like the Arnold movies, and cheesy sword tales, Jordan's book is great stuff. A light snack before plunging back into proper fantasy, 'Conan the Invincible' is still entertaining and well written.

Now I'll keep an eye out for Jordan's other Conan tales next time I am at the used bookshop.

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