Fiction Reviews

The Classic Heroes: Conan's Brethren

(2009/2011) Robert E. Howard Gollancz, 20, hrdbk, 721pp, ISBN 978-0-575-08987-7


This is another of those hugely welcome reprints anthologies from the marvellous folk at Gollancz: few publishers reprint the old genre classics and as such Gollancz is a bit of a genre treasure for aficionados.

First off, for dedicated purists, there is the confusing date of publication. The copyright date in the book is given as 2009 but the accompanying press blurb (and indeed trade publicity) says that this leather-bound with gold leaf, hardback edition came out in January 2011. A bit of investigation revealed that there were copyright issues that needed resolving: not surprising really as this volume brings together many stories from disparate sources.

Conan is of course known by many today who grew up with the Marvel comics of Conan The Barbarian in the 1970s: though he actually originated back in 1932. He is of course a muscle-bound barbarian who inhabits a primitive mythical sword and sorcery world, by Crom.

But although Conan is the most famous of Robert E. Howard's creations, he was not that author's only character. His other heroes included: Solomon Kane (a steely-nerved Puritan duellist); King Kull (a ruler in the Atlantean age); and then there is Bran Mak Morn (one of the Pictish peoples and an ally of Kull).

Solomon Kane came armed with a rapier, some duelling pistols and the mystical staff of Solomon, and had adventures in Africa where he followed a villain from France, one of his other adventures involved going to a lost city ruled by a vampire queen.

Kull was King of Valusia and set in the pre-cataclysmic age before the destruction of Atlantis. He had to fend off invaders: the pre-human Serpent men. Among other things, he helped lead the Norsemen against the Roman invaders. These stories helped with the development of Conan's world. Thirteen Kull stories eventually saw print, but alas for Robert E. Howard, many of them only after his tragic death in 1936.

Bran Mak Morn was a spin-off character from the King Kull stories. He is a Pictish warrior and a descendent from Brule the spear-slayer. Bran was the last of the pure-blood Pictish chieftains.

In addition to these three, Howard wrote a number of stories involving assorted savages, swordsmen and sorcerers.

From a reader's perspective is that a good thing about these tales is that they do all have the same high adventure, fantasy flavour. So if you like Howard's Conan stories then the chances are that you will really like these too. Meanwhile from the dedicated fantasy fan there is the heritage value of these stories in that Robert E. Howard was certainly a master of his craft.

If all the above were not enough, the volume features at its end a highly informative essay on Robert E. Howard by the horror connoisseur and editor Stephen Jones. This last is illustrated with book and magazine covers. Meanwhile the main part of the volume itself has a number of mono line drawings but the renowned genre artist Les Edwards. There is also an almost obligatory map on the inside front of Solomon Kane's Africa (prepared from a map by Tim Kirk), and inside back a map of King Kull's World (prepared from a map by Lin Carter): both these were drawn by Dave Senior.

This volume will appeal to sword and sorcery adventure readers as well as dedicated genre enthusiasts. Get it while you can.

Jonathan Cowie

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