Having read one of Michael A. Stackpole’s recent novel’s (At The Queen’s Command), I was impressed enough that I knew I had to read his version of Conan. I dove into the book without having seen the new movie and was pleased to discover a rich adventure that would be hard for any film to capture. Conan is filled with some of the things you would expect: fight scenes riddled with gory violence, sex, sorcerers, and warlords bent on possessing ultimate power. However Stackpole also delivers the characters on an emotional level that puts the readers inside their heads. The reader gets to see a perspective of Conan that allows them to connect with the character as he struggles through the obstacles put before him. The story itself is also quite the adventure, and the prose skillfully captures the essence of the atmosphere. For fans who know Stackpole by his Star Wars: X-Wing books, Conan breaks ground into another realm of escapism that may be just what you’re looking for.
First off, what Conan book would be complete with out some good action? From large battles to one-on-one encounters, Conan’s blade tastes the blood of many a foe. The story pulls no punches in combat and the grisly details splash and drip off the page in all their gruesomeness. Yet these things do not dominate the book, rather they are balanced with the other facets of the story. For every lopped head and spilled brain there is a line of intelligent prose or insightful narration. In one case Conan goes up against a foe and the battle quickly rolls off with slashes and kicks, delving into the action. A line of dialog pops up between paragraphs as Conan slings a taunt at his opponent. Then the narration shifts to the perspective of an observer rationalizing each blow. The breaking of an arm is accounted for as an act of revenge for a historic wrong. A prolonging of the fight is reasoned as a way to teach the other a lesson. When the scene shifts again, the narrator states how things truly are and goes on to give the readers a glimpse of Conan’s perspective. The breaking of an arm had nothing to do with revenge and everything to do with opportunity. Finally it goes back to the battle with the last few deadly strikes that finish off Conan’s enemy. The whole scene transitions seamlessly between each shift in narration. The flowing account of the fight elevates it above most of the others in the book, but it gives you an idea of how well the fights are portrayed. There is a lot more to the novel than just simple violence.
Unsurprisingly the main focus of the book is Conan’s adventure, yet his journey to becoming a man was one of the most essential elements to the story. Things kick off with Conan as a child in his village living with his father. As a child he learns how to be a warrior and goes through extensive training under several teachers. This part of the story builds up Conan’s character to the reader. We get to see inside his head, his relationship with his father, his wants and desires, as well as how he deals with success and failure. The emotions and reasoning conveyed allow the reader to bond with Conan and to share his childhood. I particularly enjoyed how Conan wasn’t perceived as a simple brute who was good with a sword, but an intelligent, even patient, warrior. These relate-able human qualities allowed me to bond and empathize with him. He is a completely familiar character by the time he is full grown and off journeying across the land.
Through the book readers will get to experience a wide swath of excitement. From the mountainous, forested regions of Cimmeria, to the desolate Red Wastes. From sea battles to sieges, and assaults on holy monk temples and evil ruins. Archers, barbarians, pirates, and more battle each other in numerous encounters. Conan finds himself up against the likes of raiding Pict warriors, vile legions, and even a few monsters. Along the way Conan even picks up a few friends to help him out. There is Artus the pirate, Ela Shan the thief, and the monk warrior Tamara. Together they help form a story that keeps the reader entertained with a variety of elements.
For anyone who enjoys a good fantasy action novel, Conan is a book that will keep you satisfied throughout. Stackpole’s skillful writing weaves a story the easily captures the reader’s imagination. Furthermore, for a novelization of a movie, it never feels like anything less than a dedicated, original story. Delightful prose adds a layer of quality to it that makes it much more than a simple popcorn book. This is a novel you can sink your teeth into and thoroughly enjoy. I give it five out of five metal bikinis.