Reviewing the New Edge of Sword and Sorcery
by Gavin Chappell
Conan: The Shadow of Vengeance
by Scott Oden
WHILE LORD OF the Mound was underwhelming, and Black Starlight was essentially an epilogue to a different story, The Shadow of Vengeance is a self-contained mini-epic; admittedly a follow up to The Devil in Iron, but standing up well on its own two barbaric feet. The fact it’s a sequel was the only failing, to my mind. I’d prefer an original story liked Lord of the Mound that doesn’t insist on fitting in exactly with the chronology than one whose characters and setting are dependent on an existing story. Also, The Devil in Iron is one of my least favourite. But that aside, this is REAL Conan. No other pastiche writer I’ve read, not Lin Carter, not Karl Edward Wagner, not Andrew J Offutt, not Robert Jordan, nor even John C Hocking, comes so close to the original. It reads like something Howard himself could have bashed out of his typewriter, with one or two minor exceptions.

Regardless of whether Conan is in romantic vein:
His iron-hard fingers tangled in Octavia’s hair as he drew her down to him. she gasped at the ferocity of his kiss. Then, with a gusty laugh, he released her and slapped the horse’s haunch. “Go on, girl! Do as you’re told!”
Or diplomatic:
Conan leaned heavily on the scarred table, his corded arms braced wide, hands balled into mighty fists, and glared at the assembled pirate captains…
Or menacing:
The Cimmerian’s rage was terrible to behold. He seized the edge of the table in one white-knuckled fist and flung it aside. “Then draw steel, you whoreson dog!” Conan snarled…
this is Conan!

Little of Scott Oden’s writing has come my way, other than a story he wrote for the first edition of Skelos, but his reputation preceded him, and I was certainly expecting blood and thunder. Nor was I disappointed, by Crom. Other pastiche writers may be fine enough authors in their own way, but inevitably they’re writing their own Conan, a watered down version compared with the original. I understand Oden’s historical fiction reads much like REH, although his novels are rather longer. I’m going to have to read more of his work, and I sincerely hope he’s going to write more Conan.

Oden’s had a lot of positive feedback for this story, which he admitted on Facebook he welcomed, since the first outing for The Shadow of Vengeance, serialised chapter by chapter in the current Conan the Barbarian comic, met with little approbation. The chapters are short. If I’d had to wait a month until the next one, I’d probably not have got into it so much. Read as a whole, the short chapters add to the relentless pacing of it, very much reminiscent of REH, just as the language and characterisation is.

We also have a reference to HP Lovecraft, another to Shakespeare, a third and particularly cheeky one to Ray Harryhausen. Occasionally the language lets up a little, and more modern expressions creep in. But none of this detracts from the story, which features pirates, kozaks, evil wizards and sorcerous perils—everything you’d want from a Conan tale.

I read somewhere that L Sprague de Camp eventually regretted taking on Lin Carter as a Conan writer, wishing instead he’d approached Leigh Brackett. Lin Carter was a pastiche writer par excellence, but Leigh Brackett fully mastered Howardian prose. That said, like CL Moore, her heroes tend to lack the drive that is needed for a good Conan. Oden's writing does not suffer from this.

I hope we see more of Scott Oden’s Conan pastiche, because he is the writer most able to carry it off. Hail Oden!
Conan: The Shadow of Vengeance by Scott Oden is available from Amazon.

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