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 LAST UPDATE 8/16/17

Conan of the Red Brotherhood by Leonard Carpenter, Tor, 1993

Conan is a pirate captain on the inland sea when the king of Turan decides to wipe out the corsairs at the same time that he is sponsoring a context for a new naval weapon. Conan temporarily thwarts a sorcerer's quest for some magical jewels, but he is betrayed and the sorcerer returns to Turan to build his superweapon. Conan and the other pirates unite to form a huge fleet with which to blockade the main harbor in Turan, and there the final confrontation takes place. Slightly above average for the author.  8/16/17

Conan Scourge of the Bloody Coast by Leonard Carpenter, Tor, 1993 

Conan the pirate king gets caught up in a war between two rival nations. One has a large army but no navy and after various adventures Conan orders the combined pirate fleet to act on their behalf. But an old enemy – now ostensibly an ally – has more treachery in mind. I generally enjoy pirate stories but there was not a lot of that despite the title. There's a pretty good sea battle and some other effective scenes, but the ending feels rushed. 8/16/17

Conan the Savage by Leonard Carpenter, Tor, 1991 

Conan is only present in about half of this novel. After escaping from the mine where he is a prisoner, he wanders around the wilderness, runs into an unusual tribe, and only near the end gets involved with the main story. The focal plot is a young orphan and her doll, who somehow gain supernatural powers that allow them to seize control of Brythunia. Then Conan has to bring the menace to an end. Some goods parts sprinkled through, but this doesn't hold together very well. 8/12/17

Conan the Outcast by Leonard Carpenter, Tor, 1990 

Conan visits a remote desert city and becomes a local hero when he helps repel an attack by nomads. His popularity plummets when he becomes involved in a duel with a local man, who kills himself in service of the city goddess. Expelled, he becomes a guide for an expedition from another city who plan to introduce an idol into the other in order to provide a conduit so their god can destroy everyone there. Although Conan suspects something is wrong, he is not strong enough to destroy the god, who is finally vanquished when the city goddess intervenes. Fairly good adventure. 8/10/17

Conan the Great by Leonard Carpenter, Tor, 1989 

Conan is king of Aquilonia, but the neighboring kingdoms covet his territory. A war breaks out and – partly at the urging of a dwarf who is secretly communing with a forgotten god – Conan sets out to conquer his neighbors. We learn that Conan has two sons in this one, and the fate of his old lover Yasmela is revealed. Not badly written, but Conan does not feel like the same character this time. He is grasping, ambitious, ruthless, cruel, and spends lives without a second thought, even the lives of his friends. Carpenter's least interest Conan novel. 8/7/17

Assassin's Price by L.E. Modesitt Jr., Tor, 2017, $27.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-9047-9 

The eleventh book in the Imager series comes shortly after the major conflicts appear to have receded, although the subsequent peace is anything but calm. It includes a coming of age story – the son of a ruler wishes to learn how to be a good leader but after quarreling with his father decides to make his own way.  His decision is partially deflected however when a number of privateers begin to prey on shipping in the area, after which he discovers that there is an assassin targeting the royal family. When he assumes the throne, he must watch his own back while defending his people against the predators, and it appears that the real power behind both threats is someone close to home. The usual baroque palace intrigues, a touch of adventure, and a mystery unraveled. I did have a feeling of déjà vu this time, although the story was enjoyable enough. 8/5/17

The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O by Neal Stephenson and Nicole Galland, HarperCollins, 2017, $35, ISBN 978-0-06-240916-4 

Although this very long novel attempts to rationalize both time travel and witchcraft, it is fantasy and not SF. A secret government organization has concluded that magic was real until late in the 19th Century. The construction of an enclosure in which magic can be performed allows the one surviving witch to send people back in time. A very complicated, multi-sided plot emerges with some attempting to restore witchcraft to the present and others trying to manipulate the past for other purposes, although the story is not a familiar changewar story. It is entirely epistolary, which was a nice change, but rather too long for its plot. The ending suggests that there may be a sequel. Enjoyable but slow at times. 8/2/17

Conan the Hero by Leonard Carpenter, Tor, 1989   

Conan is fighting in the Turanian army against a rebel province, but the effort is constrained by corruption in the army, conspiracies in the court, and the mystical power of a wizard who is leading the rebels. He decides to tell the king the truth about the duplicity of his generals and they naturally make several attempts to kill him. This was a not very well disguised parallel to the Vietnam war. Unfortunately, the plot is very loosely constructed in the first half and episodic in the second. 7/27/17

Conan the Warlord by Leonard Carpenter, Tor, 1988 

Carpenter's third Conan novel is much better than the first two. Conan is taken from a dungeon to stand in for a spoiled young prince and finds himself in the middle of a many sided struggle. Eventually he has to lead an army against a horde of serpent men, still pretending to be someone he isn't. The story is quite methodically developed and well paced and the characters are much more complex than in the previous books. This was surprisingly enjoyable. 7/24/17

Conan the Raider by Leonard Carpenter, Tor, 1988 

Conan is stranded in a desert and rescued by a group of professional tomb robbers. He joins them and gets caught up in a conflict when a necromancer plots to seize control of a kingdom by raising an army of the dead. This was a significant improvement over Carpenter's first novel, dropping the clunky artificial dialogue and expanding to a fairly large number of reasonably well developed characters, three of whom are women.  7/21/17

Conan the Renegade by Leonard Carpenter, Tor, 1986 

Carpenter's first Conan novel had a pretty good plot. He's a mercenary working for rebels trying to overthrow the ruler of Koth, but he is betrayed when the leader of the rebels makes a deal with his avowed enemy. Conan leads what is essentially a group of bandits despite the presence of a powerful wizard with a robotic war machine. The narrative is okay and the story is exciting, but Carpenter employs an artificial style in his dialogue that is absolutely leaden.  Fortunately he would drop this affectation in his next book and produce a much better piece of fiction. 7//17/17

Conan the Rebel by Poul Anderson, Bantam, 1980 

Conan agrees to help a pirate queen rescue her brother from Stygia, but it is actually a trap arranged by a wizard who has had a vision on which Conan is instrumental in destroying the royal family and himself. Naturally Conan does not allow himself to be trapped easily, and despite various ensorcelments and opponents – including an army of the undead – he finds a legendary axe, kills the wizard, topples the Stygian ruler, and helps a group of rebels free themselves from invaders. There are some very contrived plot devices but overall this was an entertaining adventure. 7/14/17

Cat Pictures Please and Other Stories by Naomi Kritzer, Fairwood, 2017, $17.99, ISBN 978-1-933846-67-5

I have enjoyed a handful of novels over the years by Naomi Kritzer, but I never actually thought of her as a short story writer. This is probably because I have been reading the prozines only spottily for the last several years and while I remembered a couple of the tales included here, others seemed new to me and I probably did not read them when they first appeared. They are largely fantasy, like her novels, but not entirely. The title story, which won a Hugo, is the best in the collection but I also liked "Cleanout," "Artifice," and "The Wall." Kritzer is particularly adept at creating a rounded character in a relatively short space and her characters are often more interesting than the stories themselves. This is well worth your while. 7/10/17

The Ghost in the Corner and Other Stories by Lord Dunsany, Hippocampus, 2017, $20, ISBN 978-1-61498-193-0 

S.T. Joshi and Martin Andersson spent a considerable effort going through Lord Dunsany's papers and have managed to find enough unpublished stories to fill a new collection. That alone should send you out looking for a copy. These are mostly fantasy of various sorts, sometimes leaning toward horror but not all that far. Not surprisingly, they are witty, amusing, entertaining, and definitely did not deserve to be wallowing unpublished and unread. That said, there really aren't any new classics here, although the title story is quite good and a couple of the others surprisingly well done for works that I suppose technically were trunk stories. Definitely worth the price. 7/10/17

 Urban Enemies edited by Joseph Nassise, Gallery, 2017, $16, ISBN 978-1-5011-5508-6 

My perception, perhaps incorrect, that urban fantasy has declined somewhat from its peak, although it still remains popular. This is a collection of stories by various authors who work in that genre featuring the villains from their respective series, some of which really aren't urban fantasy. They vary in tone from light adventure to almost horror to open humor. So there's a new Harry Dresden story, sort of, and a Joe Ledger by Jonathan Maberry, and various others by Kevin Hearne, Faith Hunter, Diana Pharaoh Francis, Lilith Saintcrow, and others. I was particularly happy about a new Kitty Norville story from Carrie Vaughn. About two thirds of these I actively enjoyed and there were only a couple that I found uninteresting. 7/10/17

Conan the Avenger by Bjorn Nyberg, & L. Sprague de Camp, Lancer, 1968

This is actually just a reprint of The Return of Conan by Bjorn Nyberg and de Camp, which also appeared as Conan the Victorious.  An essay by Howard has been added.  Conan's new queen has been kidnapped by a demon so he's off on a series of episodic adventures as he seeks to rescue her from the most powerful sorcerer in the world. Some clumsy plot devices in this one but it does capture most of the flavor of Howard's work. 7/6/17

Conan the Wanderer by Robert E. Howard, L. Sprague de Camp, & Lin Carter, Lancer, 1968 v459 

Four Conan adventures, two of them by Howard. "Shadows in Zamboula" and "The Devil in Iron" are both solid sword and sorcery adventures, although not among the very best of Howard's work. "Black Tears" by de Camp & Carter is okay but unmemorable. "The Flame Knife" is a novella originally published without Conan as "The Three Bladed Doom." De Camp rewrote it as a Conan story.  It's a novella and  the strongest story in the collection, involving a visit to a hidden city and Conan's successful disruption of a plot against the entire world. Nice rousing adventures for the most part. 7/4/17

The Secret of Drearcliff Grange School by Kim Newman, Titan, 2015  

Inevitably this is going to be compared with the Harry Potter books, although it has only a superficial resemblance. The setting is a school of unusual – i.e. troubled or possessing unusual magical powers – in an alternate England where magic is not uncommon. The book is episodic, relating episodes involving the various students including a kidnapping, ghosts, and a demonic snowman that keeps reassembling itself. It's a lot of fun, even when some pretty dire things are going on. The characters are quite diverse, the magic sometimes a little hard to follow, but the individual episodes all end up being completely satisfying. 7/3/17

Conan the Freebooter by Robert E. Howard & L. Sprague de Camp, Lancer, 1968

Five more adventures of Conan. "Black Colossus" pits him against an ancient king who survived through sorcery and who has been released from his tomb to raise an army of conquest. "Shadows in the Moonlight" takes Conan to the ruins of a building on a remote island where a collection of statues prove to be more than they seem. "A Witch Shall Be Born," in which an evil twin sister takes over a kingdom by replacing her sibling, contains the scene in which Conan is crucified, replicated partially in the movie although in the story he has to be rescued rather than freeing himself.  "Hawks Over Shem" was originally not a Conan story, but de Camp rewrote it, and the same is true of "The Road of the Eagles." The first is a good but familiar story of palace intrigue. The second is less successful. An attempt to seize an exiled prince goes awry. 7/1/17

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