Monday, August 05, 2019

Conan and the Living Plague - John C. Hocking

John C. Hocking is the author of CONAN AND THE EMERALD LOTUS, a novel which is widely regarded as the best of the Conan pastiches published by Tor in the Eighties and Nineties. I finally got around to reading it several years ago and agree that it’s easily the best of those pastiches. Hocking wrote a sequel to that book called CONAN AND THE LIVING PLAGUE, but unfortunately, Tor cancelled the Conan pastiche program and Hocking’s second novel was left languishing in limbo.

Until now. A new imprint called Perilous Worlds has started a line of Conan pastiches, and Hocking’s CONAN AND THE LIVING PLAGUE is the first book, rescued at long last. And that’s a very good thing for those of us who are fans of Robert E. Howard and Conan, because it’s an excellent novel.

Conan is recruited to be part of a small mercenary force headed to the isolated mountain city of Dulcine, which is rumored to have been wiped out by a mysterious plague. But rumors also say that there’s a fortune waiting to be had in Dulcine’s treasure vaults, and an ambitious prince has his eye on that loot. In order to get his hands on it, he hires not only Conan and several other hard-nosed soldiers but also a sorcerer who had something to do with the plague that wiped out the city. Conan hates and distrusts sorcery, of course, but the magic conjured up by this mage Adrastus is the only thing that can get the treasure seekers safely in and out of their destination.

Well, of course, lots of stuff goes wrong. The plague hasn’t wiped out everybody in Dulcine, but the people who are left have been transformed into crazed, bloodthirsty semblances of their former selves. Even worse, a creepy figure who’s actually the living personification of the plague is wandering around the castle where the treasure is supposed to be. Conan and his companions are in constant danger not only from this living plague but also from treachery within their own ranks. Not all of them will make it out alive . . .

Hocking doesn’t try to slavishly imitate Robert E. Howard’s style, although there are Howardian touches to the prose here and there. Instead he tells the story in his own voice, with well-drawn characters, a head-long pace, and plenty of epic action scenes. I think this is the best approach to pastiche, producing a novel that’s recognizably a Conan tale, steeped in the background and setting Howard created, but in the author’s own distinctive style. Hocking has given us another fine novel, and I certainly hope it won’t be the last. I really enjoyed CONAN AND THE LIVING PLAGUE and give it a very high recommendation.

UPDATE: I've talked to one of the folks at Perilous Worlds and learned that not only will they be publishing this book, they'll also be reprinting John Hocking's excellent CONAN AND THE EMERALD LOTUS (mentioned above) as well as a lot of other stuff that sounds good, some Robert E. Howard-related, some not. You can check out their website here. THE SONG OF BELIT by Michael Stackpole sounds especially intriguing to me, and I plan to read it when it becomes available.


thedarkman said...

Alas, it appears the release of this novel has been delayed; hopefully it’s not too long. I’ve been waiting for this book for years, and when Mr Hocking posted a excerpt at the old Robert E Howard website it only made me want this book more!

Evan Lewis said...

Great news. I want it!

wkeil said...

This will be published in September 2020. You can pre-order it at the Book Depository. See here -

wkeil said...

This will be published in September 2020. You can pre-order it at the Book Depository. See here -