Friday, 10 February 2012

Conan's Brethren

Conan’s Brethren by Robert E Howard
Reviewed by Peter Coleborn

If you own Gollancz’s previous Howard collection The Complete Chronicles of Conan (and if you don’t, shame) you’ll want this companion volume. Both are handsome productions, a credit to a mainstream publisher. And both are edited by Stephen Jones.

Conan’s Brethren is a massive 700 page tome full of stories that flowed from Howard’s typewriter. Here are the tales of King Kull, Bran Mak Morn and, of course, Solomon Kane. At FantasyCon 2010 a panel discussion came to an unanimous agreement: Kane was everyone’s favourite REH character.

Howard’s writing may seem dated to the modern reader. It’s flowery and melodramatic. At times you wish he’d just get on with it. Howard’s characters are reflections of each other, bringing a similarity to the stories. And yet it does not matter because, in the main, the stories swirl along at a blistering pace. Howard has been described as a natural-born story teller. You can imagine him strutting around a room regaling an audience with his outrageous yarns, the audience lapping up every word. Reading this book I was fondly reminded of tales first read 30 years ago, such as Worms of the Earth, Skulls in the Stars and The Frost King’s Daughter (later rewritten as a Conan yarn swapping Giant for King).

In the Lancer editions published in the 1970s, many REH’s stories were completed by the likes of Lin Carter and L Sprague de Camp. Here, all you get is Howard, except for the detailed afterword by Stephen Jones that charts the publishing history of many of these stories. Howard was prolific! In his brief life he produced a huge canon of work that influenced many fantasy writers over the decades. To discover more about Howard’s life and relationships check out One Who Walked Alone by Novalyne Price [filmed as The Whole Wide World].

If you have any interest in the roots of modern fantasy and horror (for Howard’s stories were steeped in both) get this book. (Note: although the copyright page says 2009 the book has just appeared in 2011 - something to do with trademarks.)

(This review was originally published on the BFS website)

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