Conan the Barbarian

By Robert E. Howard

Rating: 3 stars

I picked up this ‘primer’ collection of Conan stories for free at the 2014 Eastercon mostly because I’ve never read any Howard before and felt that it was a missing part of genre education.

The stories are a mixed bunch of shorts, novelettes and novellas, along with a poem and a background article on the Hyborian age (the mythical age of the world in which the stories are set). Due to the archetypical nature of Conan and his world, the stories actually felt quite familiar, given everything that has come afterwards. They’re fun enough to read, if you don’t mind the purple prose but the treatment of women and the casual racism do raise a sour note.

These are pretty much to be expected in the context of the time, and at least some of the women get to be pretty hard as well (the two I’m thinking of are both pirates, now that I come to think about it), although the gratuitous, lingering descriptions of their bodies and their general purpose as ‘damsels in distress’ or something for our hero to lust over feels a bit icky.

Still, as I say, they’re fun stories and pretty foundational to the sword’n’sorcery genre. I sort of wish I’d encountered and read them when I was younger. They’re made for teenage boys.

Book details

ISBN: 9780575113497
Publisher: Orion Publishing Group
Year of publication: 1934

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