Saturday, April 15, 2023

Conan - Conan the Rebel

Prolific science-fiction and fantasy author Poul Anderson (1926-2001) wrote one Conan novel, 1980's Conan the Rebel. It was originally published by Bantam in 1980, then reprinted by the publisher again in 1981. Ace Books reprinted the novel twice, 1988 and 1991. England's Sphere Books also reprinted the novel in 1988. Tor Books published the novel as a hardcover in 2001 and a softcover in 2003.

What makes Conan the Rebel really interesting is that it is set in a time-period of Conan's life that directly places him in the middle of a Robert E. Howard story called “Queen of the Black Coast”. In Howard's story, originally published in 1934, Conan joins a sailing crew led by raven-haired pirate-queen Belit as they ravage the Stygian coast on their Tigress ship. The beginning of the story is Conan's introduction to Belit and incorporation into the life of piracy. The second half of the story is the Tigress destruction and Belit's death. However, in the middle of the story Howard suggests that the duo had a wonderful life together sailing the high seas as lovers. This is the era that Anderson hones in on.

In Conan the Rebel, both Belit and the titular hero are experiencing love and adventure at sea. But the two become targets of a sorcerer who is serving the dark god Set. In the opening pages, the Stygian magician Tothapis is warned by Set that both Conan and Belit are now a loving couple (that won't produce children). Set tells Belit that a magical ax will be used to wreak havoc on Stygia. Tothapis, gaining insight from Set's rather vague vision, assembles a meeting with a military leader and a vile priestess. The military man recognizes the ax in the description as the powerful Ax of Varanghi. Putting two and two together, the group focus on killing Conan to keep him from using this ax to destroy's Set's sanctuary. 

While Anderson's narrative is rather dense with characters and multiple story arcs, the collective whole is a rousing action-packed, sword-and-sorcery novel. There are multiple allies assisting Conan through various aspects of the adventure. Readers are provided varying backstories for each character to build validity and purpose to their inclusion in the plot development. The adventures incorporate nautical aspects, jungle escapism, a prison break, treasure hunting, and the wicked supernatural entities summoned by the magician and priestess. 

Conan the Rebel was a real pleasure to read and an entertaining romp through a small, isolated portion of Conan's spectacular history. Belit would later die in “Queen of the Black Coast”, so the character in the books and short story is short-lived. However, in the Conan the Barbarian comics by Marvel, she is featured predominantly in issues 58-100. Dark Horse's own Conan the Barbarian comic featured Belit through issue 25, later partially collected in the trade paperback Conan Vol. 16: The Song of Belit.

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