When I bought this hardcover omnibus volume of the first three Robert Jordan novels published in the Tor Books Conan series, I thought that I had already read all of them in individual mass-market paperbacks. But when I finally got around to cracking the book, inspired by a perverse nostalgia for the first one Conan the Invincible (certainly one of the earliest Conan books I had read, back in my teens), I discovered that I had never read the other two. So I went ahead and ripped through them; they’re far from heavy reading.
In all three novels, Jordan makes competent though uninspired use of the Hyborian settings: Shadizar, Belverus, and Aghrapur. Karela the Red Hawk and her sometime lieutenant Hordo are original Jordan characters who provide continuity between the first two stories. Karela is a red-haired bandit who seems to have been suggested in part by the Red Sonja comic book character (herself derived from Robert E. Howard’s Red Sonya), and Jordan builds a sexualized frenemy relationship between her and Conan.
The author’s particular erotic fantasies are on evident display consistently through this collection. In each of the first two books, a sorcerer-villain establishes mind control over a beautiful woman and has her strip naked as a demonstration of the effect. (In the third, the lascivious wizard simply asserts supernatural dominance over a woman already nude.) Although it’s not Conan’s most frequent approach, he obtains sex through presumed consent in all three stories, i.e. he forces himself on a woman who is overtly upset with him, and offers to stop if she tells him to–which she doesn’t. In these episodes, the sex is also construed as something the woman in question “owes” to Conan for her misbehavior.
The third novel Conan the Unconquered involves the “Cult of Doom,” which makes it appear rather derivative from the John Milius and Oliver Stone cinematic Conan story that had reached screens the year before Unconquered was published. The villain in this case, though, is not Thulsa Doom (pilfered by the movie from Howard’s Kull stories), but a necromancer named Jhandar. The megalomaniac warlocks that Jordan throws against Conan are in fact disappointingly uniform.
Even among the Tor Conan books, these are merely passable entries, outclassed by many of the later ones. [via]