Bret James Stewart's Reviews > Conan the Usurper

Conan the Usurper by Robert E. Howard
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it was amazing

Conan the Usurper is not a tale in itself; it is a collection of four other tales plus an introduction:

The Treasure of Tranicos
The Phoenix on the Sword
The Scarlet Citadel
Wolves Beyond the Border

I like these stories. Conan is older and wiser than in some of the earlier stuff. Also, the writing style, done by Howard and de Camp, is different than many of the other authors, who frequently portray Conan as a much more over-the-top and, therefore, less believable, at least to me, hero. The style is also more narrative, featuring more descriptions of the areas in which Conan is travelling.

The Treasure of Tranicos a.k.a. The Black Stanger begins with Conan on the run from numerous Picts. He has to flee through a dark forest, and he is only able to shake his pursuers when he enters an area taboo to the warriors. The area in question is a cave filled with a pirate treasure and guarded by a demonic creature. And that’s just the beginning. I don’t want to give away the plot, but it culminates in a great combat with Conan, settlers, and pirates unsuccessfully defending a stronghold against a large group of Pictish warriors.

The Phoenix on the Sword is a great title and story. Conan has taken over the kingdom of Aquilonia, but he finds that his warrior’s ways do not mesh well with rulership. A rebel plot to oust the barbarian is the main plot, but there is an interesting subplot wherein the Stygian sorcerer, Thoth-Amon, who is Conan’s nemesis, recovers a lost ring that was responsible for much of the wizard’s power. I assume this story is the reason for the title of the collection as Conan usurps the throne from the current king, Numedides.

The Scarlet Citadel is also set during Conan’s stint as king of Aquilonia. An ally of the nation request aid, but it is a ruse. Conan and his forces are ambushed and defeated, resulting in Conan being captured. He is imprisoned in a dungeon with lots of beasties magically warped by the evil wizard of the place. One of these is the giant snake creature that I assume is the subject of the cover art. In an unusual move, Conan allies with another prisoner, a rival wizard of the aforementioned mage. The pair escape, and Conan retakes his throne.

Wolves Beyond the Border is another great title—can you tell I think a good title is important to drawing the interest of the reader? This story is unusual in that it actually does not feature Conan as the protagonist; indeed, Conan never appears in person though he is mentioned. The main character is Gault Hagar’s son, who thwarts a Pictish attack upon Aquilonia.

As is to be expected with a Conan work, these are rousing fantasy stories. Stylistically, the tales are somewhat darker and less “Hollywood” than some of the later tales. It is a must read for fans of Conan and/or Howard, but I think pretty much any fan of sword and sorcery would like these books.

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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
February 2, 2015 – Shelved

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