Back in the 80s and 90s Tor published a lot of pastiches featuring Robert E. Howard's Conan. Many authors, including Robert Jordan, wrote some of these books. Most were not very good. Here's my review of one of those books, with some asides on problems with the story and characterization that may help the writers among us think about our own works in progress.
Sean A. Moore, Conan the Hunter, Published by Tor. 1994. 245 pages.
This was Moore's first book and I haven't read anything else by him. I do think he showed promise but none of us will get to see it developed since he died in a car crash in 1998 at age 33. This book's strengths included fast pacing and generally pretty good descriptions of physical combat. The book also got better toward the end, and I found myself turning the pages to see what would happen next. That’s a step forward compared to other pastiches I've read.
There were, however, a number of problems that made the book less than a standout. First, Conan the Hunter failed to capture the flavor of Robert E. Howard. Anyone who has read REH's Conan would never be fooled into thinking that Moore's Conan is the same character. In fact, Conan in this story was only one of several central characters, and there were times when he didn't even seem the major one. Had the book been called "Gorum the Hunter" I probably would have enjoyed it more, but when you do something called "Conan" it seems to me that you try to stay true to the character as Howard created it. This was the weakest part of Moore's book. In fact, in several places the author seemed to draw Conan as little more than an ineffectual buffoon. For example, on page 13, a city guardsman, admittedly described as very strong, grabs Conan by the wrist--and snaps it just like that. It appears Conan needs a few calcium tablets in his diet.
On page 54, Conan is trapped in a sewer when he is attacked by a tentacled monster (from the cover drawing by Ken Kelly). Conan leaps into the air to avoid the creature, misjudges the tunnel’s height, and cracks his skull against the ceiling hard enough to bring down rocks and dirt. This stuns Conan long enough for the creature to get hold of him. By the way, it also sets off an avalanche of dirt that opens the sewer to the outside (described as 80 or 90 feet above.) This dirt, described as "tons," buries the creature.
On page 60 Conan becomes a total buffoon. He tries to sneak up on a gardener to steal his clothes to get inside a palace, but he screws this up and ends up on his face in the dirt with the gardener yelling for the guards. He then knocks the gardener down, but as he stands up the gardener's horse bolts and the cart it is pulling hits Conan's shoulder,
knocking his sword out of his hand. In reaching for his sword, Conan sticks his foot into a loop of the harness; the horse bolts again, and Conan is dragged unceremoniously along behind. When Conan finally gets free of the horse, he stands up and the gardener walks up and knocks him out with one punch. Just who is this gardener? Mike Tyson?
In yet another place, page 92, Conan takes a swing at a guard and ends up punching his fist into the other fellow's armor. Now true, Howard did not show Conan as infallible or as never making mistakes, but all this just seems a little too much for me. As I said, this might have been fine, or even appropriate, for "Gorum," but it just didn't fit "Conan."
What else? Well, despite the fact that Conan's wrist could be broken simply by being grabbed by another fellow, his head certainly seemed to be hard enough. On page 94, a man who is apparently incredibly strong hits Conan upside the head with a direct, sidearm blow from a heavy mace. Conan is merely stunned! Does that seem reasonable to you?
My overall evaluation is that Conan the Hunter was readable, and even enjoyable at some level, but that its attempt at a pastiche of Howard was unsuccessful. The main problems were with the characterization of Conan, and with the occasional lapse in internal logic. This book should have been published as a non-Conan book and should have had the more egregious errors edited out or toned down. I mean, did anyone along the production line for this book even stop to imagine what would happen to a human skull when impacted by a mace traveling at full speed?