Conan: Blood of the Serpent by S.M. Stirling, illustrated by Roberto De La TorreConan: Blood of the Serpent by S.M. Stirling

Conan: Blood of the Serpent by S.M. Stirling, illustrated by Roberto De La Torre fantasy book reviewsTo say I was thrilled to discover a new Conan novel is the understatement of my year or maybe even decade. Conan of Cimmeria, barbarian, thief, warrior, outlaw, mercenary, reaver, king, Robert E. Howard’s legendary hero, the one who made him the father of Sword and Sorcery has returned. Conan is back, Baby!

Conan, and REH, not to mention ERB’s Tarzan, are not only what made me into a bookworm, but transformed me into the total fantasy geek I am today. I literally get chills when I read the line “Know ye O’ Prince, that between the years when the oceans drank Atlantis….”

So, Blood of the Serpent (2022) is a struggle for me to review objectively but, seeing as how Conan set me on this path, I owe him the attempt. (Note to Titan Books; how dare you not include that iconic introduction?!?!)

I’m a tad disappointed that the newest addition in the Robert E. Howard pastiche tradition is not an off-the-spinner-rack paperback with a Frazetta, Ken Kelly, Boris, or Royo, cover the likes of what Ballantine, Ace, and Tor published in the 70’s, 80’s, and early 90’s. Nevertheless, Titan Books delivers with a beautiful hardback. The dust jacket features the iconic sword from the 80’s Conan the Barbarian movie (and the more recent Stranger Things season finale) which I will always respectfully refer to as The Schwarzenegger Sword.

The illustrations by Roberto De La Torre are an absolute fanboy’s dream. They’re wonderfully reminiscent of Marvel’s Conan comics and magazines. My only complaint is there wasn’t enough of them.

Along with S.M. Stirling’s story, this book also contains the original Robert E. Howard novella and fan favorite, Red Nails. Blood of the Serpent portrays the events leading up to Red Nails, and when Conan meets the sexy, swashbuckling pirate captain, Valeria of the Red Brotherhood.

I’m well pleased with Mr. Stirling’s take on Conan. Not just any fantasy author can pull this off. There’s a list of accomplished writers who failed miserably at REH pastiche. Contrary to what many uninitiated believe, Conan is not just a musclebound brute sporting a sword, a fur diaper, and a voluptuous half-naked damsel clutching at his mighty thews. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) Stirling, for the most part, gets it.

Robert E. Howard projected his conflicted — and ultimately suicidal — personality into all his stories. His bleak outlook and pessimism about society fueled a motivation to live life with furious, reckless, passion. It’s this dark trait lurking deep in the DNA of Howard’s characters that provides ballast to ground what otherwise might be seen as shallow ultra-alpha-male (and occasionally alpha-female) personas. When authors don’t understand Conan and don’t have extensive knowledge and insight into the history and content of the original Howard tales and S&S genre, their attempt at an REH pastiche falls flat.

S.M. Stirling

S.M. Stirling

Respectfully, Stirling doesn’t quite capture the dark undercurrent that hides in the periphery of Conan’s personality. (Then again, tell me which REH pastiche writers do? Maybe John Robert Maddox came closest.) Otherwise, Stirling is up to the task. He knows the Hyborian Age that is Conan’s world and can skillfully tell an exciting Conan tale. Even though I found Stirling’s use of inner monologue for Conan a bit jarring at times, it became both enjoyable and quotably humorous.

Conan: Blood of the Serpent is a series of linked adventures which lead directly into Red Nails. As mentioned previously, Red Nails is most awesomely also in this book.

Conan is already employed as mercenary of Zaralla’s Free Companions when Valeria signs on. The captain of the notorious Red Brotherhood band of buccaneers has found herself temporarily without ship or crew, so a soldier of fortune would seem the perfect job to get her back on her feet, or sea legs rather. But, as I imagine is the way with any pretty pirate, especially one as well put together and dangerous as Valeria, trouble always finds her and, naturally, Conan is all too ready to jump into the fray.

What ensues is a series of two-fisted sword and sorcery adventures that reads to me like a good Western tale. From bar room brawls, to combating a slave rebellion, and wilderness survival, Conan fights apex predators, other dangerous animals, and even simian monsters all while cursed by a pissed-off sorcerer. The stories culminate with a manhunt across the deadly deserts, savage savannas, and shadowed jungles on the southern border of Stygia. As any Conan fan will tell you, of all the kingdoms in the Hyborian Age, Stygia is the most dangerous place for Conan of Cimmeria to be.

There’ve been some stirring on the fringes of SFF communities that a Sword and Sorcery revival is on the horizon. What better way to kick things off than with a new Conan book? S.M. Stirling, along with illustrator Robert De La Torre, do a bang-up job with Blood of the Serpent. Cheers to Titan Books as well! The only other thing this fanboy can ask for is: More, please!

Published in December 2022. The pulse-pounding return of Conan, the most iconic fantasy hero in popular culture, with a brand-new standalone novel by New York Times bestselling author S.M. Stirling, tied directly to the famous tales written by the legendary Robert E. Howard.  Conan the Barbarian, the world’s most famous fantasy hero, returns in an all-new novel tied directly to the famous works by his legendary creator, Robert E. Howard. Set early in his life, Conan has left his northern homeland to cut a bloody swath across the legendary Hyborian Age. A mercenary, a soldier, a thief, and a pirate, he faces conquering armies, malicious sorcerers, and monstrous creatures—against which he wields only the sword held in his powerful grasp. A superstar of novels, short fiction, comics, video games, films, and an upcoming Netflix series, his adventures have inspired many of the most popular authors of the 20th and 21st centuries. This is the first in a series of brand-new, standalone adventures.


  • Greg Hersom

    GREG HERSOM’S addiction began with his first Superboy comic at age four. He moved on to the hard-stuff in his early teens after acquiring all of Burroughs’s Tarzan books and the controversial L. Sprague de Camp & Carter edited Conan series. His favorite all time author is Robert E. Howard. Greg also admits that he’s a sucker for a well-illustrated cover — the likes of a Frazetta or a Royo. Greg live with his wife, son, and daughter in a small house owned by a dog and two cats in a Charlotte, NC suburb. He's been with FanLit since the beginning in 2007.