Monday, February 05, 2024

Conan: The Shadow of Vengeance - Scott Oden

I’ve been looking forward to this one, and I’ll say right up front that Scott Oden’s THE SHADOW OF VENGEANCE, the latest entry in the new series of Robert E. Howard-related short fiction, did not disappoint. At all.

This novella is a direct sequel to Howard’s story “The Devil in Iron”, so, figuring my memory might need some refreshing, I took this opportunity to reread that yarn for the first time in a while. I wouldn’t put it in the very top rank of Conan stories, but it’s a really solid tale and ends with one of my favorite lines from a Howard story (or anybody’s story, for that matter): Conan says to Octavia, the beautiful blonde he’s rescued from the evil Jehungir Agha’s seraglio, "I'll burn Khawarizm for a torch to light your way to my tent."

THE SHADOW OF VENGEANCE opens three months later in Khawarizm, where an advisor to the late Jehungir Agha makes a deal with a group of mystical assassins to kill Conan and avenge the ruler slain by Conan. Unknown to him, Conan is making plans to carry out the promise he made at the end of the previous story and conquer the city. To do that, he plans to broker a truce between the Kozaks, the wild raiders of the steppes he currently leads, and the Red Brotherhood, his piratical former allies who sail the Vilayet Sea. (It occurs to me that if you’re not familiar with Howard’s work, you don’t have the foggiest idea what I’m talking about.)

These elements come together in what is the most Howardian Conan pastiche I’ve ever read. Oden captures the deft blend of deception and double-crosses that Howard often made use of in his stories. He nails not only Conan’s character but his physical description as well. One of the previous authors in this series described Conan as “hulking”. Well, no. Howard usually compares him to a wolf and emphasizes his speed and cunning as much as his strength. And Oden’s prose really reads like it could have been published in WEIRD TALES or some other pulp in the Thirties. It’s full of action and color and flows beautifully.

THE SHADOW OF VENGEANCE joins John Hocking’s BLACK STARLIGHT as the real highlights of this new series. I’d love to see both Oden and Hocking writing full-length Conan novels on a regular basis. I don’t know if that will ever come about, but if it does, I’ll be a regular customer, I can tell you that. In the meantime, if you’re a Howard fan I give my highest recommendation to THE SHADOW OF VENGEANCE. It’s just flat-out great.  

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