Conan the Liberator
by L. Sprague De Camp, Lin Carter
List Price: $24.95
Hardcover - 256 pages (June 2002)
Forge; ISBN: 0765300702; 1st Tor ed edition (June 2002)
Review by Bruce Wallace
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When I first picked up Tor's reissue of Conan the Liberator it was like meeting an old friend again. I hadn't read Conan since high school, and this treatment of Robert E. Howard's famous barbarian king by L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter brought back some fond memories of enjoying hours of uncomplicated yet engaging tales of sword and sorcery.

The series is set on earth in the legendary if fictional Hyborian age, which occurred sometime between the sinking of Atlantis and the beginning of recorded history. The story told in this volume primarily takes place in the land of Aquilonia, which is roughly equivalent geographically to medieval France.  In this age magic was a fact of life and Gods and Demons were aplenty. Great deeds and even greater acts of treachery were the order of the day. This book contains its fair share of both.

Conan the Liberator picks up where the novella "The Treasure of Tranicos" leaves off.  Conan has recently been rescued from an island by the would-be leaders of a plot to oust the evil and corrupt King Numedides and is offered a chance to join with them. Conan quickly agrees to their suggestion that he lead their armies in this fight. Conan loves a good fight to begin with and a chance for plunder and a possible king-ship are all the reasons he needs.

The tone of Conan the Liberator is set in the opening chapter when we meet King Numedides and his court Sorcerer Thulandra Thu as they thoughtfully engage in their mutual hobbies of torture, debauchery and the search for immortality. The amazing thing is how quickly the reader is shown with relatively simple prose and an economy of words just how bad the situation in the land of Aquilonia is for noble and poor alike. As the chapter title, an ancient Aquilonian saying, suggests "Even the bravest cower when madness wears the crown." By the end of the chapter we see that the King is indeed mad,  his court sorcerer is steeped in evil and that there is good reason to for all to cower.

The next few chapters introduce us to Conan and his war leaders. Count Trocero of Poitan and Prospero, a former Aquilonian general, are the refined noblemen that Conan is not. He is first and foremost a barbarian with tremendous physical strength and a volcanic temper. What separates him from the pack of common scoundrels are his quick wits and barbarian code of honor. He is a fighter and war leader without match who is as fiercely loyal to his men as they are to him.

After these first few chapters in which the stage upon which the story is played out is set,  book begins to unfold at breathtaking speed. We are immediately plunged into a whirlwind of action, intrigue and magic. This is a tale not meant for the faint of heart, but well worth the time for any armchair adventurer with a love of sword and sorcery. Conan, old friend, welcome back.

2002 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu