Conan the Indomitable

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews Conan the Indomitable by Steve Perry.

Steve Perry Conan the Indomitable

This review might turn out to be a little lengthy, and I don’t want to keep readers in any suspense about my opinion of Conan the Indomitable. It is easily the worst Conan novel I’ve ever read.

In my other reviews, I’ve observed that the short story is the paradigmatic narrative form for Robert E. Howard’s Conan, and with the vast number of novels about the character written by later authors, they have often developed new forms and styles, or used ones originating with their fellows, rather than attempting to work on the lines set down in Howard’s one Conan novel. I have inferred a stylistic genealogy from Andrew Offutt to Robert Jordan to Roland Green, for example, while finding Karl Edward Wagner fairly faithful to Howard’s original approach in the short stories. If Steve Perry had a model for his writing of this Conan yarn, I think it must have been the Marvel Comics Conan writings of Roy Thomas. Thomas, though, was often taking his plots from Howard’s original stories (Conan and otherwise, following the lead of DeCamp and Carter), and he had the benefit of art from Barry Windsor-Smith and John Buscema.

An additional influence for Perry might have been some sort of 1980s fantasy role-playing game supplement, since the action of the novel literally precipitates Conan into a “dungeon” of the sort that was the stereotypical site of the action in such games. This environment—roughly at the intersection of the Hyborian realms of Corinthia, Zamora, and Brythunia, which are otherwise irrelevant to the story—is called the “Grotterium Negrotus,” and is under the divided and competing regimes of a wizard and a witch, each of whom becomes magically convinced of the need to capture Conan. This subterranean political setup reminded me even more of the 21st-century board games Dungeon Lords and Dungeon Pets by Vlaada Chvátil! Parallel to the adventures of Conan and his accumulating band, the exotic monster species (cyclopes, giant worms, blood-bats, blind cave apes) dominated by the dungeon lords of this book find their collective will to revolution.

The cover of my copy (the trade paper edition that was the book’s first issuance) has Kirk Reinert’s art, which is both very faithful to the story and perfectly hilarious, as it shows Conan confronting the vaguely-inhuman sorceress Chuntha (yes, that’s her name), herself riding a giant worm whose open maw is an unmistakable vagina dentata. All of the chief villains in this story are conspicuously defined by their gender. According to the sequence and difficulty of their overcoming, the greatest of these is the male wizard, followed by the impressively lascivious female witch, and finally a fairly contemptible sorcerous gynander.

The tone throughout is predominantly comic, with obvious foreshadowings and mechanical parallels in the development of the plot. The style includes the sort of feigned archaicisms that you’ll never find in a Robert E. Howard story. (He was more prone to an occasional anachronism, in fact.) It also includes “translations” of adages and idioms like, “One cannot make mushroom wine without crushing a few toadstools” (227), and features a character (I can hardly help thinking of him as an “NPC”) who is under a curse to insult everyone he addresses, while his face is frozen in a smile.

Honestly, I cannot recommend this book to even the most indiscriminate of sword and sorcery readers. [via]