cover image Conan of Venarium

Conan of Venarium

Harry Turtledove. Tor Books, $24.95 (272pp) ISBN 978-0-7653-0466-7

Master alternative historian Turtledove (American Empire) attempts to inject some life into the well-trod Conan sequel subgenre, but this coming-of-age story of Robert E. Howard's barbarian hero is, alas, just as commonplace as all the other imitations by the late Lin Carter and company. Expansion-minded Aquilonians have invaded and occupied Fort Venarium in southern Cimmeria. Their lecherous commander, Count Stercus, seizes a pretty local girl at whom Conan has often gazed silently, like any tongue-tied teenage boy. You can bet the shy, untried Conan will take on the dastardly count, but will he get the girl? Later, Conan fights with the northern Cimmerians, who have gathered to drive out the Aquilonians. Eventually finding himself alone on the cusp of manhood, he realizes that his life will always be that of a wanderer and a thief. The fantasy elements are disappointingly few-a demonic bird, a huge venomous snake, a seer who foretells the boy's incredible future, a vision of a ruined temple that disappears as suddenly as it appears. Only Conan diehards and Turtledove completists will be likely to pick up this sword-with-little-sorcery novel. (Aug. 5)