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Posted July 22, 2003
Not your father's pastiche
Robert E. Howard gave few details of the Sack of Venarium. Few were needed; the picture was clear enough. He wrote of the battle as a red slaughter, a wave of barbarians howling and slaying as they poured over the walls of the Aquilonian fort in the teeth of a fierce snowstorm. Conan had not yet seen 15 snows at that epic battle, but was already acknowledged a fierce warrior around the campfires. Those scant details by Howard were enough to paint a vivid picture of Conan's early years. Too bad John Milius didn't pay attention when he penned the goofy beginning of Conan the Barbarian. And too bad Harry Turtledove didn't gain a better understanding of Conan of Cimmeria before he cranked out this poor pastiche. Alas, Turtledove did not even deign to research the rest of the Conan Saga that has touched on the Sack of Venarium over the years. A half-dozen characters have been tied to the battle in various Conan paperbacks, but none of that is captured here. Instead, we get a poorly researched yarn of minimal heft. Although Cimmerians disdain archery, Turtledove puts a bow and arrow in Conan's hand at age 12. He has young Conan enjoying the herding of sheep. And he gives us not one battle of Venarium, but two, as the Cimmerians are rebuffed the first time and forced to endure occupation for two years. Not likely. Turtledove never places Venarium as near any particular river, shows us nary a Pict nor Aesir, and all in all does little to bring the Hyborian world alive. There is scant sorcery involved, either. Somehow a 40-foot Son of Set teleports to an Atlantean shrine in the woods of Cimmeria, just long enough for three arrows to slay it. In some scenes there is great sympathy for the Aquilonian and Bossonian invaders, even as they put a pike in the belly of a Cimmerian. Robert E. Howard would be spinning in his grave over that alone. To his credit, Turtledove's pacing is good, and some of the battle scenes are fairly sketched. But with young Conan doting on his mother, befriending an invader, wielding a bow, and driving a cart of onions, it is clearly not a character anyone who read the Ace and Lancer paperbacks of yesteryear would have recognized. Turtledove should either do some more research or return to his nearest parallel dimension.
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Posted September 8, 2003
Just Not Worth It
Conan of Venarium started with a good idea. What was Conan's world like before he set off as the worlds greatest barbarian warrior.Unfortunately, this book was the most tedious of all the Conan works to date. Admittedly, Turtledove is a great author, but the works that are his best he researched. I found numerous problems with his portrayal of young Conan. Not to belabor this, but Conan of Venarium really should have been left as one of the 'lost Conan tales' never to be recovered.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.