Saturday, April 29, 2023

Conan - Conan the Bold

John Maddox Roberts is a Vietnam War veteran that served in the US Army from 1967 until 1970. His first novel, The Strayed Sheep of Charum, was published in 1977. Specializing in historical mystery and adventure, Roberts authored the successful Ancient Rome series SPQR, published as 13 installments between 1990 and 2010. He also authored titles like Stormlands, Hannibal, Space Angel, Cingulum, Island Worlds, and Falcon. My experience with the author is his contributions to the Conan pastiche novels published by Tor. Many Conan fans point to Roberts as one of the better authors of the post-Howard era of Conan literature. Roberts authored eight total novels featuring the hero, including Conan the Bold, originally published in 1989 with awesome cover art by Ken Kelly.

In Roberts' novel, he captures Conan's life at the age of 15 or 16, shortly after events in Conan of Venarium. After the sacking of Venarium, Conan headed south and wrestled with adventures in Pictland. It is here that he suffered injuries (off page), and as Roberts' novel begins, young Conan is being nursed back to health by a nice family in southwestern Cimmeria. In an interesting encounter, Conan is off hunting and reunites with a Great Valley Pict warrior named Tahatch. In reflection, Conan recounts his experience in the Pictish wilderness and battles with the Black Mountain Picts. After a battle, Conan first met Tahatch in a cave where the two struck up a friendship and Tahatch was able to mentor the young hero in ways of wilderness survival.  

When Conan returns from his hunting trip, he finds that his family, and the girl he was potentially to wed, all massacred by a band of slave raiders. Conan vows to track the raiders down and kill each of them. The book's narrative has Conan teaming with a swords-woman named Kalya, who has her own traumatic connection to the slave raiders. Together, the duo travel through Aquilonia, Ophir, Koth, Shem, and the River Styx over the course of nine months of hunting raiders.

Roberts compiles a lot of side-stories and small adventures in this 280 page novel. Aside from presenting these two heroes, the narrative spends a lot of time on the slave raiders led by a nefarious individual named Taharka. As the plot develops from different points of view, Taharka runs a gambit of slave raiding, pit fighting, robbing, and murder. These plot jumps feature an evil sorcerer named Alexandrias that uses drugs to bolster his fighting spirit. Readers experience the pit fights between slaves, Alexandrias, and Kalya, as well as prison breaks, boat fights, the liberation of a caravan, and numerous characters, the highlight being a dagger throwing phenom named Vulpio. 

Aside from too many story elements, Conan the Bold is a fantastic pastiche novel showcasing Conan's teenage years. At times the hero seems much older than 16, with dialogue suggesting he has lived a lot longer. But, the Conan Wiki has an excellent article justifying some of Roberts' writing and that Conan could have potentially experienced a lot of these things even at such a young age. If you are looking for a great adventure novel that fits into an old fashioned traditional western revenge yarn, then look no further than Conan the Bold. Recommended.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

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