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Conan's Brethren: The Complete Collection Hardcover – December 15, 2009
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If you own Gollancz's previous Howard collection, you'll want this handsome companion volume! * British Fantasy Society *
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"Conan's Brethren" was an even better deal, because it had plenty of Howard stories that I hadn't read before. Of course, this book has Kane, Kull, and Mak Morn. These are all fantastic. The Del Rey editions are still better text-wise, with Howard's uncorrected text, notes, and other extras to make those the definitive volumes. But if you are new to Howard and just looking to read his stories instead of study them then this makes for a great set. You really can't go wrong there.
It was the "Savages, Swordsmen & Sorcerers" section that really had me excited. Dark Horse Comic's Robert E. Howard's Savage Sword got me interested in reading beyond Howard's famous characters. I've been itching to read his Oriental stories of the Crusades, and I hadn't even heard of his Edgar Rice Burroughs-inspired "Almuric" until I picked up this volume. Brilliant stuff and a lot of fun.
I can't say that every yarn here is a winner. I love Howard, but he had his off days like any other writer. I didn't love "The Sowers of the Thunder" or "Lord of Samarcand." The plots to those seemed forced, and the characters too stilted. "Spear and Fang" I have read before, but I have never been a fan of.
On the other hand, "The Hawks of Outremer" is one of the best Howard stories I have read. The twist of the story is just brilliant, as is the characterization. I was also blown away by "Gates of Empire." It showed a side of Howard I hadn't seen before--humor. The "bombastic loser" Giles Hobson reminded me of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's "Brigadier Gerard."
Several of the stories, like "The Gods of Bal-Sagoth" and "The Garden of Fear" I recognized from Roy Thomas' run on Marvel's Conan the Barbarian comic book, and it was great to read the originals. Same with "The Shadow of the Vulture," with the original Red Sonya.
"Almuric" was interesting as well. I didn't know Howard had written a Sci Fi story, although it is Sci Fi only in the initial set-up. I loved the silent continuity between "Almuric" and "The Garden of Fear" has Howard re-used his ebon-skinned, winged monsters. I'll have to re-read "Queen of the Black Coast" to see if those are the same flying creatures encountered there.
The Afterword, "Kinsmen of Conan," was a great read. Stephen Jones plunges into the history of Howard's "other characters," showing what markets he was trying to break into with the stories, and why they didn't catch on--either because the interest wasn't there or because Howard lost his muse. Jones quotes heavily from HP Lovecraft's obituary for Robert E. Howard, which adds a nice personal touch to the Afterword and an appropriate air of melancholy.
I don't know if Gollancz is through with this series or not, but if they kept making them I would keep buying them. I would love to see El Borak and Swordwoman get their due in one of these volumes. And I always have more room on my bookshelf for another fine collection like this.