Sunday, December 10, 2023

The Bloody Crown Of Conan!

The Bloody Crown of Conan contains two of my favorite Conan stories. These are longer stories, and at this point the character is well established having found real success at Weird Tales where the editors clamored for more (though as always are reluctant to pay).

"People of the Black Circle" is highly regarded by many, but I found its narrative a bit hard to penetrate. There is a mishmash of names early on and frankly I got the characters confused. Conan is in fine form though, kidnapping a Vendhyan queen for ransom. But the whole thing feels a bit episodic. A couple, a magician and his girlfriend, get lots of attention, but don't really depart from being cliches. The ultimate enemies, some very nasty magicians are handled well and the climax itself is pretty potent, but it takes a long time to get to it.

The Hour of the Dragon remains my favorite Conan story. The only novel written by Howard about Conan, it seems some regard it as a reprise of various elements found in earlier stories. I agree with that, but those elements, especially a king who is challenged by a resurrected magician and his traitorous colleagues is nowhere handled more deftly than here. Xaltotun, the magician, is the best and most fully developed Conan nemesis in the canon and Howard rather successfully used the story to travel across the Hyborian geography, only occasionally making it seemed forced. There's plenty of dumb luck, but in the end Conan prevails because he's smarter than his enemies. It's his brain that won the day, not necessarily his brawn. I like that.

The third and final story is "A Witch Shall Be Born", a story which is clever in that it keeps Conan at a distance in much of the story, but never forgets his influence. This tale is told adeptly with some very large but proper time jumps. The villain admittedly is a tad cliche, but this is pulp after all. Some think Conan comes across as too powerful in this yarn that has him survive a crucifixion of all things. But I think this story does a fantastic job of making him imposing and even art times awe inspiring.

Gary Gianni supplies the artwork for this volume and his style is absolutely ideal for this kind of work. His Conan is rock solid.

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