Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Conan the Mercenary

I promise I didn't read two trashy Conan books in a row. Honestly, I didn't. I've just been in the mode of reading several books in parallel, in different parts of the house, and it so happened that I completed this one before I finished the other one I started before I started this one. Really, I did.

In any case, Conan the Mercenary, by Andrew J Offutt, seems to be from an extended series of knockoff Conan books that may have stemmed from L Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter's series - Buccaneer is listed in the "also in this series" list in the front of the book. In any case, if the Conan subgenre is literary junk food, then this one is fried pizza. It's not awful, but it certainly lacks a lot of the subtle power that makes Howard's or Robert Jordan's Conan tales shine. Relative to those, and even to the de Camp/Carter novel, this one is rather lacklustre.

It's actually two linked shorter stories; in the first Conan tries to steal from a sorcerer, and ends up with something of his own stolen; in the second one he comes into the employ of a noble lady in an eastern kingdom, in order to get back what he lost to the sorcerer. He defeats another bad guy who has been aided by a sorcerer.

Sorcerers in Conan stories seem to be always a little dull. They're two-dimensional bad guys with magic and an insatiable lust for power. I've always wanted a little more to them. The warriors are much more interesting - flawed but likable characters with some depth to them. I feel shortchanged after Conan goes up against a sorcerer - whether he wins of loses, it seems that there should have been more. More of what, I don't know. But more.

So this one I'd rate as only for the real Conan fans. Otherwise, skip it. The advantage you have with Conan over something like the Flashman Papers is the near limitless supply of reading material. I was immensely disappointed when I read the last Flashman novel and knew that there would be no more, but at least with Conan, there seems to be a good few shelf-metres of reading material to go through before I run out.

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