Turtledove abandons the multivolume military fantasy epic of his World War and Great War series to join other Conan chroniclers.
Robert Jordan, L. Sprague de Camp, Lin Carter, and Poul Anderson have also taken on the mind and muscles of Robert E. Howard’s great barbarian Conan, whose earlier exploits have twice been lifted to filmic glory by that brawny Austrian swordsman and beloved thespian Arnold Schwarzenegger. Conan’s new author pops us into the Cimmerian youth somewhat before the Howard saga begins in (1932), but, for today’s readers, it’s just before Arnold’s Conan the Barbarian Weird Tales (1981, later novelized by de Camp and Carter) begins, with Cimmeria being invaded by Thulsa Doom, Conan’s parents being killed, and the kid enslaved to the muscle-building Wheel of Pain. This is also before the Conan character we love today is formed into our icy, doom-driven, somewhat Nordic fatalist who believes in the war god Crom and is contemptuous of civilization—or, as Arnold puts it, rather sublimely, “What is best in life? To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of their vimmen.” Turtledove opens on familiar gritty prehistoric territory as the Aquilonian Empire (France more or less) crosses the Bossonian Marches, invades Cimmeria (Ireland?), and builds their encampment, Fort Venarium. In the present novel, Conan’s only 12, though big, and, as in the first Conan film, helping his smithy father at his forge. Conan’s home village falls, the Aquilonians build many forts, and then Count Stercus of the Aquilonians lusts for Tarla, the weaver’s daughter, who has also caught Conan’s eye. It’s a long time before Conan can break free of his father’s strictures and actually get into battle and beheading, though he loses both parents and Tarla.
Decades later, into his 50s, Conan will return to rule Aquilonia in de Camp and Carter’s Conan of Aquilonia. Locked-in audience.