CONAN: The Road Of Kings by Karl Edward Wagner (1979, Bantam)
I’ve covered the works of fantasy writer Karl Edward Wagner (1945-94) many times. A brilliant writer who died much too soon, Wagner is responsible for creating the dark hero Kane, a red-haired giant who resembled his creator. Kane was based on the biblical persona with the same name, but in this case rebelled against a mad god who had created humanity as his toys. Cursed with immortality, Kane wondered the distant and recent past, trying to build a power base for his own machinations. KEW’s take on Conan is significantly different than Howard’s. In Road of Kings, Conan finds himself mixed up in a “game of thrones” situation. I can’t help but wonder if the outline for Road began as a Kane novel. It would make sense, as Kane was always playing power politics of one form or another. Political intrigue is the theme of this novel with different groups trying to out maneuver each other. The book begins with Conan finding himself on a gallows. He’s just killed a captain in the Royal Zingaran Army, where he was employed as a mercenary. It was a fair fight, but the commanding general has decided the barbarians whom he employs must be taught a lesson. Conan is rescued at the last minute by a band of rebels. They’re not trying to free him, but one of his fellow exuctionees, who happens to be a ringleader in the resistance against the king. Freed, Conan soon throws his lot in with the rebels and their many factions. Here is where the story begins moving: KEW doesn’t care so much about the political issues behind the rebels, he portrays them as being just as power hungry as the forces they are trying to over-through. Once a sorcerer makes an appearance telling the rebels how he can assure their revolution, the novel becomes very interesting indeed. Conan finds himself in the middle of street fighting, counter-revolution and evil magick. This isn’t one of Wagner’s major works. I would tell anyone interested in his writings to start with Dark Crusade. But it is a fascinating take on the whole Conan character.