Daniel Dern Review: Conan – Blood of the Serpent

Conan – Blood of the Serpent: The All-New Chronicles of the Worlds Greatest Barbarian Hero by S.M. Stirling

[Mini-ish Book Review: S.M. Stirling’s Conan – Blood of the Serpent — if you like Conan, you’ll like this one.]

Review by Daniel Dern: If you are a fan of (or otherwise enjoy) Robert E. Howard’s Conan (“the Cimmerian” aka “the Barbarian”) stories, you’ll enjoy reading S.M. Stirling’s new (hardcover, December 2022; paperback scheduled for September 2023) Conan – Blood of the Serpent (TitanBooks/Penguin/Random House).

If you aren’t (or consider that you used to be), but enjoy well-written sword-and-some-sorcery fantasy (e.g. Leiber’s Fafhrd/Gray Mouser) you still might. (Otherwise, feel free to skip to the next item or scroll.)

Note, the Amazon listing includes some negative reviews along with positive ones. The only downer review comment (of those I read) I agree with is, coulda had a better cover.

Even if you aren’t a Conanophile, don’t give up on Howard too quickly. He wrote, as I just learned from his Wikipedia entry Robert E. Howard bibliography, an astonishing (perhaps even amazing and astounding 🙂 ) volume of other characters and genres, including his “humorously over-the-top adventure stories” Sailor Steve Costigan, “an A.B. mariner and amateur boxer, with a heart of gold — and a head of solid wood.”

I recall enjoying them when I found a different collection of these stories in my public library a decade or two ago.

(For a more current collection of fisherman/sailors with much less boxing, I commend you to Philip Wylie’s Crunch & Des stories, available in a Best-Of or two collections, last I checked.) (Yes, same Wylie who wrote When/After Worlds Collide, Gladiator, Finnley Wren, Generation of Vipers, The Disappearance, and other sf and non-sf.)

(OK, enough digressions, back to the mini-review.)

Having written numerous pre-tech warrior/fighting books (e.g., his “Emberverse” series), S.M. Stirling brings (what feels to me like) quite adequate knowledge of combat, soldiering, and pre-tech life.

Chronologically, Blood of the Serpent takes place interstitially early on in Howard’s “Red Nails” Conan tale. (The full text of “Red Nails” is included in the book, after “Blood…”, offering a good comparison of Stirling’s to Howard’s style.) The plot of course involves a mix of shlepping through various terrains, swording, sorcerying, and scheming — showing Our Burly Hero, similar to Superman in the current Superman and Lois TV series, using his brain as well as his brawn.

Stirling’s Blood… is faithful to the character and canon, including some references to a few other Conan tales.

It’s possible Stirling may write more Conan books, but, given that this one’s events shim into “Red Nails”, it seems unlikely any such would be a direct series/saga continuation of Blood of the Serpent.

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9 thoughts on “Daniel Dern Review: Conan – Blood of the Serpent

  1. On sale since December? How in Crom’s name did I miss this? Thanks for posting this, will give it a shot!

  2. The Emberverse is more like pre-tech with hang gliders, but I quibble.

  3. @Jim: Emberverse also had, IIRC, hydraulic stuff, and other requires-knowledge-and-materials no-electrons industrial tech — but (like the Conanverse), had lots of unarmed combat, plus knives, swords, bows of sundry types, horses, etc. On the doing-tech-without-electricity, Sean McMullen’s Greatwinter trilogy had human-powered non-electric computers, light-based medium-distance networking, etc. Nothing stopped Conan or other of his contemporaries from building gliders, hang or otherwise, except not having the idea (yet).

  4. In the sword and sorcery sphere, reviews of Blood of the Serpent have been mixed. Pretty much everybody is happy that there will be more Conan (and apparently Titan is planning to reprint Conan and the Emerald Lotus by John C. Hocking, one of the best and most sought after Conan pastiches from the Tor line of the 1980s/90s). However, a lot of people feel that Blood of the Serpent is bloated, because sword and sorcery is a genre that thrives in shorter form, which is why most of the classic s&s are novelettes and novellas.

  5. Arguably, BotSerp’s several (I’ve already returned the book to the library, so I can’t easily check) sections could be considered novelettes. I can’t speak to “feel[s]… bloated,” IMHO some readers will want/enjoy the details and possible digressions and snakeshands (sorry, that’s a John Crowley/Engine Summer reference), etc.
    Given how many volumes Stirling’s Emberverse has, and some of the filigree-fine detailing throughout those, BotSerp should be considered, relatively, terse and focused. I enjoyed the ride, as it were…but am glad that it arrived at the station when it did.

  6. Will try out both “Conan and the Emerald Lotus” (found just a reasonably priced German edition) and Stirling’s Emberverse. Thanks to Cora and Daniel for mentioning those.

  7. If you haven’t yet read SMStirling, my personal favorites (and suggestions where to start):
    * the Island in the Sea of Time trilogy (aka Nantucket series) (and, I see, one story)
    * The Lords of Creation Duology (aka The Lords of Creation series) (and one story) — gotta love it at minimum for book 2’s title (In the Courts of the Crimson Kings)(1969 album by King Crimson)
    (I thought there was another I was thinking of, but realized that one was by Steven Gould, whose books I’m quite fond of.)

  8. @Klaus Schmitz
    You’re really lucky, since the US edition of Conan and the Emerald Lotus is hard to find. I hope it’s a good translation and that you enjoy it.

  9. The primary -market- available to pulp writers in the 1920’s-30’s was in lengths from short story to novella, published in the magazines.

    Novel-length fantasy and SF wasn’t a genre ‘thing’ then; there were novels in those categories, but they were mostly part of ‘general fiction’.

    Even after WW2, most SF/F novels were quite short until the 70’s — in the 60-70K word range. Most of Poul Anderson’s early novels were of approximately that length, for example.

    HOUR OF THE DRAGON/CONAN THE CONQUEROR is one of Howard’s last works, and the only Conan novel he wrote — but it’s considered one of his best, too.

    Mind you, you could say it’s a collection of related novellas.

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