From 1982 through 2003, eight authors (though primarily four) cranked out 43 new Conan novels for Tor. At two per year, the quality varied wildly, as you can imagine. John M. Roberts’ Conan the Rogue is an homage to Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest and one of my favorite Conan books. Steve Perry’s Conan the Indomitable is one of the worst fantasy books I’ve ever read (even though it is a direct sequel to Perry’s Conan the Defiant, which I mostly liked.)
So, let’s take a look at those two Steve Perry books. I think that Ryan Harvey may hold Roland Green in less esteem than he does Perry, but I suspect it’s a close call. I think that Perry was the Tor author cranking out Conan books just for the money. On the whole, they’re bad, and I recommend everyone else ahead of him. Though I don’t recommend Green much, if ever. I talk about the books, and Conan writers, who I like, in the other posts below. You can see what I consider good about them. I don’t think Perry respected the character, or cared about the quality of the plot. Having said that, Conan the Defiant wasn’t too bad as a sword and sorcery paperback. Unfortunately, its follow-up was tripe.
Conan the Defiant
Conan the Defiant is the second of the five novels which Perry wrote in the Tor Series. In William Galen Gray’s chronology it is the fourth Conan tale (following Conan of Venarium, “Legions of the Dead” and “The Thing in the Crypt”), and taking place before Sean Moore’s Conan the Hunter.
The young Conan comes upon a lone priest being waylaid by five bandits. Impressed with the stranger’s skill with a wooden staff, the Cimmerian wades in and helps the man dispatch his opponents. Cengh, a priest of the Suddah Oblates, is later murdered, sending Conan on a quest of justice for his short-time friend.
In typical Conan fashion, he beds Elashi, a desert-bred warrior maiden, as well as Tuanne, a beautiful zombie. Yep, a zombie. Being the irresistible stud he is, the trio engage in threesomes all along their trek to the bad guy’s castle. This one seems to rate higher than normal on the Conan adolescent fantasies scale.
Neg the Malefic is a necromancer who needs a gem called The Source of Light to raise and unleash a horde of undead minions to conquer the world. Both Conan’s and Elisha’s quests are a result of Neg’s machinations, even though the evil spell caster has no idea who they are.
There is no shortage of foes in this tale, with undead, the Men with No Eyes, Neg’s lackey, the Suddah Oblates, agents in the employ of The One With No Name, and an ensorcelled pack of spiders providing more than enough bad guys at every step of the way. With so many enemies to deal with, it is surprising how often Conan finds time to have sex with his two traveling partners.
The story, which is rather linear, works. There is enough tension throughout, with the time element constantly in play and moving things along. The final confrontation is a bit of a letdown and I had to read it a second time, as it didn’t quite make sense on the first try. It didn’t really work the second time, either.
I don’t think Perry respected the character, or cared about the quality of the plot. Having said that, Conan the Defiant wasn’t too bad as a sword and sorcery paperback. Unfortunately, its follow-up was tripe.
Conan the Indomitable
This is the third of the five novels that Perry wrote in the Tor series. In William Galen Gray’s chronology it is the sixth Conan tale, following Sean Moore’s Conan the Hunter and taking place before Perry’s Conan the Free Lance. Since events in Indomitable directly follow those in Defiant, and include his trollop of the moment, Elashi, it’s odd that Gray inserted Conan the Hunter in between those two Perry books.
So, a hermaphrodite, a nymphomaniac sorceress, a slutty desert babe, a sarcastic fool, a cyclops, a giant worm, and Conan go into a cave… Sounds like a bad joke, eh? Well, it is. Conan The Indomitable is a direct sequel to Perry’s Conan the Defiant, which as I mentioned above, isn’t too bad. This effort, however, is TERRIBLE. I have read over three-quarters of the Conan pastiches, and this one is the worst so far.
One of the protagonists has all the depth of a teenage geek’s imagination (and I was such a geek). The others don’t offer much more. And you could see the demise of one character so far ahead that there was no suspense building for when it finally happened. I forced myself to finish this book so I would be qualified to review it. It was that bad. The alliance between two of the villains’ lieutenants was the only interesting part of this story.
This is the last Conan book I would re-read. Stay away.
I thought about reading Conan the Formidable to make this a trilogy post, but I decided I’d rather watch a couple more Hallmark Christmas movies (I like them. Don’t judge me) instead. I wasn’t up to it.
I have not yet read Conan The Free-Lance, but it’s generally considered to be terrible as well.
Clock on the links below to find some recommended Conan books.
Bob Byrne’s ‘A (Black) Gat in the Hand’ was a regular Monday morning hardboiled pulp column from May through December, 2018 and again from August through December, 2019. It returned in June, 2020.
His ‘The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes’ column ran every Monday morning at Black Gate from March, 2014 through March, 2017 (still making an occasional return appearance!).
He organized ‘Hither Came Conan,’ as well as Black Gate’s award-nominated ‘Discovering Robert E. Howard’ series.
He is a member of the Praed Street Irregulars, founded www.SolarPons.com (the only website dedicated to the ‘Sherlock Holmes of Praed Street’) and blogs about Holmes and other mystery matters at Almost Holmes. That’s also the name of his podcast.
He has contributed stories to The MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories – Parts III, IV, V, VI and XXI.