Conan’s Brethren

Written by Robert E. Howard
Review by Janet Williamson

Published as part of the “Classic Heroes” series, which understandably has a massive following, this inventive collection of short stories and epic fantasies relies heavily on legend, folklore, tribal lore, superstition and the paranormal to capture and engage reader interest.

The stories  recount the exploits of a multitude of unique characters, including the grim, Puritanical Solomon Kane, “a landless man but friend to all in need”, who battles against the dark arts in Africa and then travels the world  knowing that it is his destiny to kill all rogues, and to fight oppression, cruelty and tyranny.

Most of the characters are kings or leaders schooled in weaponry who are described vividly and colourfully in the tales of Bran Mak Morn, Cormac, King of Caledon, and Kull of Valusia (which was covered by the sea at the same time as Atlantis), who fights with the Viking leader Wulfhere for supremacy and is then accepted by the warriors as their leader. Picts battle against the Romans at Hadrian’s Wall, and Jutes, Saxons, Barbarians, Gaels, Franks, Huns, and Turks solve conflicts between their natural, as well as chosen enemies, or fight over territories.

A few lines of apposite verse relating to the theme of war introduce each story.  Dread and fear are conveyed convincingly, as are the vibrant and accurately depicted battle scenes. Admittedly, the unrelenting violence becomes excessive when one is exposed to it continually, and the characters nearly all believe that right is on their side as they fight to right all wrongs, yet their narrow‑minded attitudes towards women and ethnic groups are extremely prejudiced. That said, these lively, swashbuckling adventures realistically bring the valour and heroism of ancient times back to us.