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Books for Review should be sent to: Don D'Ammassa, 323 Dodge Street, East Providence, RI 02914

 LAST UPDATE 9/28/17

Conan the Triumphant by Robert Jordan, Tor, 1983  

Conan and a band of mercenaries are caught up in a near civil war when the king of Ophir falls fatally ill. One of the local nobles is attempting to awaken an evil god from an ages long sleep. Another hopes to seize the throne by subterfuge. An old acquaintance returns  to pursue her love/hate relationship with Conan, who has accidentally purchased a magical artifact that could bring the god back to life. The ending is rather weak in this one and there are a few too many coincidences. 9/28/17

Conan the Unconquered by Robert Jordan, Tor, 1983

Conan gets on the wrong side of another evil sorcerer. In order to find a weapon strong enough to kill him, Conan and his friends travel beyond Hyrkania to the Blasted Lands, where he has to get past monsters and magic to attain his goal. This was pretty good but a chunk of the climax involves one of his companions whose staff turns out to be magic after all, a convenient development just as it appears that Conan will fail. 9/28/17

Conan the Defender by Robert Jordan, Tor, 1983 

Conan is seeking work as a mercenary in Nemedia when he gets caught up in the unrest resulting from an ineffective king. A group of nobles, one of whom has found a trove of magical artifacts, is planning to create a simulacrum to replace the king, who will then abdicate in their leader's favor. Old companions show up as Conan becomes innocently enmeshed in the plot at first, but who takes things personally after several attempts are made on his wife. One of the better Conan pastiches. 9/25/17

Conan the Invincible by Robert Jordan, Tor, 1982 

Jordan's first Conan pastiche is an excellent adventure story. Conan is hired to steal some magical jewels for a sorcerer, but there is another sorcerer who acts first. Although his employer is now trying to kill him, Conan is determined to follow the thieves and steal them himself, but he runs afoul of a group of bandits commanded by a ruthless woman who calls herself the Red Hawk. A well led division of the Zamoran army is also on their trail because they mistakenly believe that the Red Hawk was behind the original theft. Everything plays out at the sorcerer's stronghold in an exciting and well choreographed climax. 9/22/17

Conan and the Death Lord of Thanza by Roland Green, Tor, 1996 

Conan signs on to clear some bandits out of a remote mountain range, but what he doesn't know is that there is a hidden magical treasure hidden there, the object of a search by two men who want to become the next Death Lord of Thanza, sorcerers with unequalled power. The twosome are uneasy allies, and the bandits that serve them are led by a woman who also has reason to dislike both. She ends up as Conan's ally after a series of battles results in the uncovering of the treasure and a secret but imminent threat to the entire world. This was Green's final Conan novel. 9/20/17

Conan at the Demon's Gate by Roland Green, Tor, 1994 

Conan is wandering around in what will become Africa following the death of his pirate lover, Belit. He becomes involved with a tribe beset by lizard apes, which eventually causes him and some of their people to pass through the demon's gate, a magical portal opened by a sorcerer in the land of the Picts. In unfamiliar surroundings, the party joins the wizard only to discover that he is insane and is plotting a disastrous invasion of Aquilonia. The two halves of the novel feel very different – an African survival story followed by the familiar battle with sorcery. Okay, but Green's weakest Conan novel to date. 9/18/17

Conan and the Mists of Doom by Roland Green, Tor, 1995 

Conan is on the run from the Turanian army when he strikes a deal with one of their officers. A mysterious sorceress known only as the Lady of the Mists is behind a series of raids that have affected the family of the Turanian commander. He knows Conan's reputation and wants his help in ending the menace. Naturally they have some minor adventures even before reaching their objective and ending her reign. This was one of Green's better stories, quite an improvement over the previous one. 9/18/17

Conan and the Gods of the Mountain by Roland Green, Tor, 1993 

Conan and Valeria are members of the Red Brotherhood, pirates working along the seacoast. They are cast adrift in a jungle and much of the first half of the book is their difficult struggle to stay alive and fed, which alternates with an account of the Godmen, who have used their magical abilities to dominate one of the local tribes.  This was a pretty good jungle adventure but it does not feel much like a Conan story, and indeed he is not on stage for a good proportion of it. 9/15/17

Conan and the Emerald Lotus by John C. Hocking, Tor, 1995 

I believe this was Hocking's only novel. A Stygian sorcerer is using a powerful drug to turn his magic wielding rivals into addicts subject to his commands. The duel of sorcerers becomes more intense but Conan also has to battle bandits, a demon that takes the shape of an oasis, an undead bodyguard, and border guards before he can even get close to his quarry.  9/12/17

Conan the Relentless by Roland Green, Tor, 1992   

Conan runs into an old friend/lover and finds himself in the service of the king of a small border kingdom beset by an ambitious aristocrat who has enlisted sorcerous allies. There's a Lovecraftian monster in a lake, fierce warriors, a siege, a duel of wizardry, battle scenes, the death of a king, and a falling out among the villains along the way. Standard Conan fare done with a strong interest in background detail. 9/12/17

Shadowhouse Fall by Daniel Jose Older, Scholastic, 2017, $18.9, ISBN 978-0-5459-5282-8

This young adult fantasy is the sequel to Shadowshaper, which I have not seen. A group of teenagers in Brooklyn, led more or less by a young woman named Sienna, all practice some form of magic. They are aware of the fact that there are evil powers also magically empowered which are working against them. But not all of their enemies are supernatural in nature. There are also some ghosts, visible to Sienna. The characters are really the best part of this urban fantasy, which is written in a rapid, stripped down style that keeps the story moving almost from the opening page. The story has a climax but not really an end, and it is obvious that there will be further adventures in the series. It's hard to do much new with urban fantasy, but Older has made a good try. 9/10/17

Conan the Barbarian by L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter, Bantam, 1982

This one is the novelization of the first Arnold Schwarzennegger Conan movie.  Catherine de Camp also wrote part of it but is not credited. A young Conan sees his family butchered and is sold into slavery. After being trained to fight in the arena, he gains his freedom and sets out to get revenge on Thulsa Doom, leader of a serpent cult who were responsible for the death of Conan's parents. Escapes and captures, a giant snake, a beautiful thief who dies, and an epic battle make up the balance of the story. Not bad, but it does not always feel like a Conan story. 9/9/17

Conan the Guardian by Roland Green, Tor, 1991 

Conan and a small group of former mercenaries agree to act as bodyguards for Lady Livia, head of one of the merchant families who rule Argos. But Livia is being targeted by a rival who wants to secure personal power over the entire city, and he is being secretly aided by a sorcerer, even though sorcery is against the law in Argos. The usual complications ensue. Green's Conan is a good deal more sophisticated, even as a young man, than he is portrayed in most of the books by other authors. 9/9/17

Conan and the Spider God by L. Sprague de Camp, Bantam, 1980  

De Camp wrote most of his Conan stories with Lin Carter, but this one was his alone and it's a good one. A murderous encounter with a cuckolded husband leaves Conan a fugitive. He travels to a remote city whose priests are  hiring mercenaries but one of their high placed officials is not only the kidnapper of a royal wife but has personally wronged Conan in the past. So our hero decides to rescue the girl and get revenge, but he doesn't count on the fact that the priest's giant spider god is an actual living creature. Much fun ensues. 9/6/17

Conan the Valiant by Roland Green, Tor, 1988

Conan is talked into accompanying a sorceress and her assistant on an expedition to retrieve a magical artifact from an evil sorcerer who is using it to build a demonic army.  Naturally things do not go as planned. The sorcerer has raised a demonic army and the sorceress is not above being corrupted by power either. A wayward fianc้ complicates matters and causes dissension among Conan's already dubious allies. Green spends a lot more time on background detail than did some of Conan's chroniclers. 9/6/17

Conan the Buccaneer by L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter, Lancer, 1971 

I'd bet a lot of money that this Conan adventure was largely written by Lin Carter. It reflects his style and preoccupations a great deal more than it does those of de Camp, and it lacks the latter's light touch with the prose. Conan is captain of a Zingaran privateer who rescues the kidnapped daughter of a dying king from traitors, slavers, nasty Amazon women with whips, and other dangers. He also has to thwart his recurring sorcerer nemesis, Thoth-Amon, and foil a plot to usurp the Zingaran throne. Reasonably good plot but substandard writing. 9/4/17

Conan the Gladiator by Leonard Carpenter, Tor, 1995  

Conan joins a traveling circus that ends up in a city where elaborate gladiatorial battles are staged. He participates for a while, then gets caught up in tension between the local tyrant and the priest class, who want to assassinate and replace him. The closing chapters are quite good but there are some dull sections beforehand. This was Carpenter's final Conan novel. 9/2/17

Conan of Aquilonia by L. Sprague de Camp & Lin Carter, Lancer, 1977 

Although this is billed as a novel it is actually a series of four novelettes set during Conan's tenure as king of Aquilonia. In the first, he rescues his son from the clutches of a powerful witch. Next he battles an old enemy and leads an army into uncharted lands.  Conan and his son are captured but manage to escape sacrifice, driving his sorcerous foe to the southernmost part of the world. The final story involves their ultimate battle, in which Conan is obviously victorious. These all felt lightweight, as though they were meant for younger readers. 8/31/17

Playing to the Gods by Melanie Rawn, Tor, 2017, $29.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-7736-4

This is the latest in Rawn's series about a traveling troupe of actors in a fantasy world. They have become increasingly successful after four previous books and are now at the top of their profession. As a consequence, they have become friendly with the royal family and have acquired considerable influence, which puts them in the crosshairs because of the ambitions of a traitorous aristocrat and his wizard ally. This is the final book in the series, so obviously all of the subplots have to reach their resolution as the final battle is underway for the future of the kingdom. I was kind of sorry to see this series come to an end as I had grown fond of some of the characters. 8/27/17

Conan of the Isles by L. Sprague de Camp & Lin Carter, Lancer, 1968 

This was supposed to be Conan's final adventure. He abdicates his throne in favor of his son and sets off to track down a supernatural menace that exists beyond the western sea. His preparations for his adventure are oddly inadequate and his eventual victory involves a magical amulet given to him in a dream, and is about as obvious a deus ex machine as you can imagine. His adventures in between are uninspired and at sixty years of age, not entirely believable. He sails off into the sunset at the end. 8/25/17

Conan the Liberator by L. Sprague de Camp & Lin Carter, Bantam, 1979 

This novel describes the rebellion that led to Conan becoming king of Aquilonia. Most of it consists of military encounters, but there is also an evil sorcerer to throw some complications into the story. Conan nearly dies when he drinks poison, but recovers in time to lead his troops in battle, although the final victory is the result of his commando mission to kill the mad king. The evil sorcerer escapes at the end, surprisingly, but Conan ends up king so he doesn't care. It's a pretty good story and the military encounters are very well constructed. 8/23/17

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 d้jเ 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