45 of 49 people found the following review helpful
I've read practically everything that Robert E. Howard has ever written, from Conan, Kull, Kane, and Bran Mak Morn to Kirby O'Donnell, El Borak, Sailor Steve Costigan, Pike Bearfield and most of his other weird menace, horror, boxing, and adventure stories in the middle. But I never tire of reading them again, especially when they are in handsome, lavishly illustrated editions such as the Bloody Crown of Conan. The book contains only three Conan stories but they are among the longest and best.
"A Witch Shall Be Born" written in 1934 contains among the most powerful images in all of Conan Lore as Conan is crucified in the desert and left to the pickings of the vultures. It is among the most vivid testaments to his strength and fortitude to have survived where any other man would perish.
"The Hour of the Dragon" was Howard's longest Conan tale and the only true Conan novel that REH ever wrote. Having just become King of Aquilonia, intrigue from neighboring Nemedia where the exiled Valerius had fled, results in the ressurection of one of Acheron's most powerful wizards Xaltotun, dead for some 3,000 years.
Conan is deposed from the throne and tossed into the dungeons to rot but is saved by a salve named Zenobia, who Conan would later re-pay by making her his wife and Queen. Conan then goes on a quest to find the Heart of Ahriman, the one item that can destroy the wizard. A truly epic Conan story and one where he must admit that his sword cannot win the day without help. Some make undue comparisons to Tolkien but Hour of the Dragon was written LONG before Lord of the Rings and there's no evidence that Howard was even aware of Tolkien.
The last story is another Classic, The People of the Black Circle. the plot involves a group of wizards on Mount Yimsha who kidnap the Devi Yasmina to their mountain stronghold. Conan must join up with another ruffian and rescue her. While all the characters are remarkably multifaceted, I particularly liked Khemsa, a novice wizard who is talked into rising above his station (and defying his masters) by his beautiful, scheming girlfriend.
Best of all these tales are not the edited versions you may have read in the old Ace and Berkely paperbacks, but pure, unedited Howard. Great stuff!
33 of 35 people found the following review helpful
on November 24, 2004
I was unaware that an editing process took place with the books. I always believed that the stories were always printed in their original form. This wasn't the case. If you are a Conan and Robert E. Howard fan; these are the best editions ever. I only wish there were more beautiful chapter illustrations. They really add a quality to the book that otherwise wouldn't have been there. If you want to see a good movie about the real Robert E. Howard I'd get "The Whole Wide World" ...it has lots of insight as to the type of person he was...
18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on February 24, 2005
The second volume of Del Rey's definative collection of Robert E. Howard's Conan stories contains three of the best ones, The People of the Black Circle, The Hour of the Dragon, and A Witch Shall Be Born.
The People of the Black Circle: Its obvious early on that Howard was really starting to hit his stride with the character by the time he wrote this . It was, at the time, the longest Conan story he ever wrote, and contains multiple plotlines which converge. It also contains some great black humor which would be right at home in today's cinema. My favorite line is, "I think I'll have your heart, Kerim Shah!", at which point the evil wizard telekenetically rips the heart out from the victim's chest. This is basically an oriental adventure story. The geographical names are changed just enough so that the reader will immediately identify with its historical counterpart. India is Vendya, etc. Many people consider this the finest Conan story that REH ever wrote. While its not my personal favorite, its definately in the top five.
The Hour of the Dragon: The only full length Conan novel that Howard ever wrote. Yes, while its true that certain plot elements are derivative of earlier Conan stories (particarly "The Scarlet Citadel" and "Black Colossus"), this is nevertheless a remarkable achievement, and one of the best fantasy adventure novels of all time. Chronologically, its the last Conan story in the saga. Here we have a Conan that is less reckless, and more mature and responsible than his younger counterpart. After he loses his kingdom, he's driven to regain it, not for personal wealth and glory, but to bring justice back to the land on behalf of his subjects. King Conan is depicted as a wise and just ruler craves peace and prosperity, rather than war and conquest, for his kingdom. As its noted in the essay inside the book, whoever renamed this "Conan the Conqueror" missed the point entirely. Don't be fooled though. There's plenty of slaying for even the most die-hard REH fanatic. Let's just say that Conan doesn't kill anyone who doesn't have it coming to them.
A Witch Shall Be Born: Basically, the story itself is pretty forgettable. What makes this story stand out is the one scene that everyone remembers, which is Conan being crucified (this scene was depicted on film very faithfully in the first Conan movie). Was Howard, perhaps on a subconsious level, expressing his views on Christianity? Its an interesting thought. Conan, even after being crucified, is not one to "turn the other cheek". As you'll see, he remains defiant even in the face of certain defeat.
I can't wait for the third and final volume to come out, "The Conquering Sword of Conan".
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on June 20, 2005
"The Bloody Crown of Conan" is the second collection of Robert E. Howard's classic character published by DelRey. It contains three stories, including the only Conan novel "The Hour of the Dragon", as well as the novella "The People of the Black Circle", and the shorter "A Witch Shall be Born." While I'm not sure if any of these rank highly as personal favorites, they are all entertaining, rousing, and even chilling.
Because there are only three stories, it's relatively easy to critique each story, as opposed to the first collection.
Naturally, "Hour of the Dragon" is the centerpiece of this collection: nearly 200 glorious pages of intrigue, fantasy, horror, and war. Conan, king of Aquilonia, finds himself unseated from his thrown when a group of plotters, led by Valerius, a Aquilonian duke, resurrect Xalotun, a long-dead wizard, who uses his powers to defeat Conan. Taken prisoner, Conan escapes, and sets upon a quest for a magic amulet with the power to destroy Xalotun. Through the course of this episodic novel, Conan encounters evil in various forms, especially in the dark land of Stygia, where he meets giant snakes, vampire women, and evil priests. Through this, he comes to understand the importance of his tenure as king to the people of Aquilonia, as they are subject to tyranny by the gang of usurpers. Indeed, "The Hour of the Dragon" represents an interesting level of growth in the character. Even though Howard did not write these stories with any sort of chronology, he have taken into consideration how the character would have changed throughout his life. Stories that take place early in Conan's life reveal a basic callowness. He's a thief and adventurer, essentially thumbing his nose at so-called civilization. However, by the time of "The Hour of the Dragon", a more mature Conan has emerged, one who acts in the interests of justice and altruism as much as in his own self-aggrandizement.
Don't worry, the young Conan is present in the other two pieces, particularly in the creepy "The People of the Black Circle." Here, Howard tells the story of Conan in his free-booting days. After the death of the king of Vendhya by black magic, his sister Yasmina ascends the throne. However, she soon finds herself under the power of Conan, whose bandits have been plaguing the kingdom. Initially seeking to ransom the queen, Conan instead finds himself in an uneasy alliance with Yasmina when the evil sorcerers who murdered her brother seek to kill her as well.
A slightly more mature Conan is present in "A Witch Shall Be Born". The story itself is pretty basic, as another queen, Taramis of Khauran, is replaced by her evil twin sister, Salome, a witch. The real centerpiece of this story is the crucifixion of Conan (here, the captain of Tarmis' guards) by Salome's ally Constantius. Naturally, Conan survives the grisly death (although he at one point rips out a vulture's throat with his teeth), and he raises an army of bandits, while inside, people subject to Salome's degrading rule quickly realize that their queen has been replaced. While most critics tend not to give this story too much credit, I found it fascinating that this story, much like "The Hour of the Dragon" concerns itself with the theme of good leadership and the dangers of arbitrary rulers. "A Witch Shall be Born" also sees Howard experimenting with narration, including a lengthy letter by a diplomat to Khauran describing the horrors under the rule of Salome. So I would argue the story has more value than perhaps the critics give it.
The various illustrations and plates by artist Gary Gianni are excellent and add to the pleasure of the collection. Also, the various editorial material, including essays examining Howard's creative process and business concerns as he wrote the stories, as well as various rough drafts and summaries, are interesting insights into the stories, and thus, greater enjoyment.
I eagerly await the next (last?) volume in the series. Howard was first-rate, and it's terrific that DelRey is making these stories available.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on March 2, 2006
In my youth I read the Conan stories of Robert Jordan and his contemporaries, mostly in the late 80's and early 90's. They were pretty good, and I thought one of those guys must've been the creator of Conan. How wrong I was. Howard's original stories blow every other Conan book I ever read out of the water. The man was a true master of sword and sorcery. Hell, he basically invented the genre! Every barbarian hero since Howard's time owes something to Conan. The stories are gripping and intense, and I even enjoyed reading the commentaries and analysis presented by the editors. All around an excellent compilation of some of Howard's best Conan stories. I highly reccommend picking up the other two books in this series, which round out all of Howard's original work.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on July 5, 2012
While there already is a review highlighting the Kindle versions problems, it deserves repetition. The Kindle version lacks the illustrations and what makes this more regrettable is the fact that the description in the Kindle store took the description from the original paper copy and talks up the missing illustrations. There is also a forward in each book that is written by the illustrator discussing his work. Without the illustrations, the main factor for purchasing what are mostly public domain stories is lost.
17 of 23 people found the following review helpful
"The People of the Black Circle". Due to Himelians' black sorcery King Bhunda Chand of Vendhya dies. His grieving sister who had to kill her sibling to give him peace wants revenge. None of her warriors want to deal with the evil seers except for Conan who fears nothing, neither sword or sorcery.
"The Hour of the Dragon". Defrocked priest Orastes brings back to life High Priest Xaltotuan, who died three thousand years ago to teach him how to use the Heart of Ahriman. They plan to kill the ruling family of Nemedia through "natural" means, place an ally on the throne, and attack Aquilonia ruled by barbaric King Conan.
"A Witch Shall be Born". Beloved Queen Taramis of Khauran is stunned when her twin sister Salome visits. Salome was left to die in the desert at birth, but being born a witch she survived. Salome impersonates her sister and uses mercenaries to take over. Conan survives warwounds, an attack by a vulture, and a tying to a cross to lead the counter insurgency.
Miscellanea and Appendices. These segments include intriguing manuscripts and story synopsis by Robert E. Howard that show the development of Conan as a character and much of his age. The appendices further provide insight into the hero, the kingdoms, and his age.
The well written stories by Mr. Howard bring out the best of Conan in an era of sword and sorcery and by themselves would make an ideal gift for aficionados. The miscellanea adds icing to an already delightful collection. Making this a winner for anyone who follows the Barbarian especially the opportunity to read what his originator scribed.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on September 20, 2013
For the second volume of Conan stories, the editors took a different tactic and instead of printing everything in strict chronological order, they put together three of the longer stories into one volume. Which means that the hit-miss ratio has to be better than the first go-round. In the first volume there were like twelve stories and if a couple of them were duffers it didn't matter too much. If only one of these were just Howard going through the motions then it would be almost a third of the book.
Fortunately, after taking some time off writing about the finest barbarian ever to swing a sword at hideous menaces from beyond time and space, he had come back somewhat inspired. Given the chance to write longer tales, he makes good use of the extra space and fills the stories with all sorts of memorable sequences, some of them not even including. What makes it interesting to read these is that it seems that Howard was beginning to see his most popular character as kind of a deus ex machina . . . he didn't become a bystander or supporting character in his own story but there are quite a few sequences scattered around the stories where Conan is absent for great lengths of time (sometimes right from the get-go) and seems to affect events purely by his sheer presence (his well-muscled body and extremely sharp sword don't hurt either), as if his sinews could warp reality. Heck, in "The Hour of the Dragon" he's almost absent for the entire climax, wandering back in for a timely "By Crom!"
Which is to say, it seems that Howard has grown more confident and at the same time more visceral. The stories seem to be more violent, which doesn't mean these are graphic gory beasts (let's keep in mind it's still the 1930s) but there are some sequences that may give you pause and go "Ew". The most famous sequence in "A Witch Shall Be Born" (and pretty much the reason everyone remembers the story) is where Conan is crucified and there's a definite loving attention to his efforts to escape from the nails, and even more detail paid when it comes time to take Conan down from that cross. Pulp scholars the world over have written about the symbolism inherent in such a sequence, that it depicts Conan crossing from human to superhuman and immortal. To me it seems more like Howard was just trying to prove how tough Conan is (for comparison another character gets crucified at the end and Conan goes out of his way to point out what a sissy he is and that he'll be dead soon). The callousness of his villains hit new highs as well, aside from the aforementioned crucifixion sequence, there's another bit where a woman is taken away and the person doing the taking away is all like, "Might I rape her?" and the villain gives the go-ahead with a casual "Rape away, Rapemeister", which probably also made the audiences back then go "Whoa, wait." But it never seems exploitative, which is remarkable in itself. Civilization stinks, Howard seems to be saying, and it's all the worse because we claim we're so civilized. Conan isn't noble, but his consistency of moral code and tendency to do what he says makes him stand out from pretty much everyone else.
But all of these are pretty decent and Howard seems to be going out of his way not to repeat himself. "The People of the Black Circle" has Conan nearly becoming a diplomat, negotiating various factions and pitting against each other in his inimitable way, as he kidnaps a princess who's got her own issues in order to rescue some hillmen that he's chief of, while she wants to use him to avenge her brother's death. Meanwhile magic comes in play and is downright creepy for once (a bit where the evil mystic does some mental hocus-pocus on a guardsman and has him impale himself gladly on his own spear is gruesome in how tossed off it seems) as the Black Seers really seem like the kind of people you don't want to mess with. But Howard handles all the various tribes and armies deftly, with everyone having their own motivations they have to either compromise on or keep close to their chests if they want to get their way, which makes for a Conan story that depends more on everyone navigating a narrow political line through their own desire than heads getting lopped off, although that happens too.
"The Hour of the Dragon" is the big gun, the only true Conan novel that Howard ever wrote and judging by the notes at the end of the volume, he went through quite a few drafts to get it right. We're back to Conan being king and although the initial situation is similar to "The Scarlet Citadel" (King Conan gets deposed in battle, has to get his kingdom back), there's much more thought put into this than that earlier story that makes it more than a do-over and instead more of an expanded rethink. As I mentioned, Howard uses all the extra space wisely, showing us the effects of Conan being deposed and how the kingdom is systematically being ruined, while also dancing between the conflicting desires of all the conspirators. Finding the jewel that would restore his kingdom almost seems besides the point with all the intercutting as things gradually devolve into chaos before Conan has to save the day (with so many threats to his throne, you wonder why he even bothered, unless it was out of pure stubbornness). Again, memorable setpieces abound, with my favorite when the weird mystic touches someone with his staff (from across the room!) and the fellow appears to fall to the floor with his bones all melted inside of him. There's so much going on that you barely notice, which is one of the nice things about this novel, for a character that mostly existed in short stories, there's very little vamping. I won't say that every scene is essential but there's not a lot of repetition going on either. Howard is so good at this point that one of his most memorable female character is only around for a few chapters, and she's still memorable.
"A Witch Shall Be Born" is remarkable for a few reasons, one of which is the already discussed crucifixion sequence and the other how Conan only appears in like two chapters and yet you rarely notice with all the other plotting and scheming going on around him. Conan makes the most of his limited screentime and it's fun to see Howard going for broke with debauchery as the evil princess turns the city into the lovechild of Sodom and Gomorrah simply because she can, leaving it up to Conan to straighten out the mess. Even the addition of a Lovecraftian monster, which was once the centerpiece of most stories, is introduced and handled almost in the same page. The prose never seems lazy and you get the sense that Howard is actively attempting to better it, to make it rise above the typical pulp histrionics. As good as Howard was in general, there's a definite singularity of purpose to his best Conan stories that a lot of his other tales don't match and what I find most interesting isn't the battle sequences and fights (although there are plenty of those and they are fairly decent) but the plotting, the attempts to write sword and sorcery tales that transcend the genre. He half-succeeded, as Conan is still remembered today, but mostly as the musclebound sword-slayer who says "Crom!" a lot but if the stories weren't so strong to begin with, the cliches would have never survived for this long.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on March 2, 2006
In their second volume of the complete Conan Wandering Star/DelRey deliver a magnificent volume including three of Howards best tales of Conan "People of The Black Circle", "The Hour of The Dragon" and "A Witch Shall Be Born" (In which our hero survives being crucified!) All that plus the amzing art of Garry Gianni (Who also illustrated both their Solomon Kane volume and their Bran Mak Morn)Add to that the wonderful insight we are given into REH's creative process through early drafts of these works included as apendices,
Top rate a real treat.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on March 12, 2010
If you're a man, you grow chest hairs and have the urge to become a MAN without borders when reading any of Howards' Opus! This Cimmerian will cleave the best apart on his days off while wenching the women to his own delights as he chops unknown horrors apart! All at the same time too!!!
What more can I write?
It Is CONAN the BARBARIAN!!!!