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News from a wargamer with a special interest in the military history of the Balkans. It mainly covers my current reading and wargaming projects. For more detail you can visit the web sites I edit - Balkan Military History and Glasgow & District Wargaming Society. Or follow me on Twitter @Balkan_Dave
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Saturday 21 January 2023

Conan: Blood of the Serpent

 My latest bedtime fiction reading has been a new Conan book, written by S.M. Stirling, a prequel to one of Robert E. Howard's original tales, Red Nails. This is a nostalgia trip for me as I devoured most of the Conan books as a teenager. The original Howard books and later work by L. Sprague de Camp and others.

In this book, Conan is a member of a mercenary unit employed by Stygia to protect a far-flung outpost with nearby gold mines. The unit has a broad mix of characters, including one of Howard's best characters, Valeria of the Red Brotherhood. Definitely one of my teenage fantasies! They get into scraps with the Stygian nobility, always a risky business and the commander sends them on a mission to get them out of town. They are scouts for a relief convoy to a gold mine that goes spectacularly wrong. I won't spoil the story, but Valeria, followed by Conan, leaves the unit and ends up in the palace setting of Howard's Red Nails, reproduced in the book.

Stirling is an experienced fantasy writer, and he broadly keeps to Howard's style, albeit a little more politically correct than the originals. Most of the fight scenes involve wild animals of various types, given the 'African' setting. This is proper sword and sorcery fantasy, and being Stygian, it involves a lot of snakes. While the writing is very descriptive of the location, it perhaps lacks the raw action of Howard's originals, but it is still a good read.

Conan has been used as a wargame setting. I have a decent figure/board game with ship and tavern settings that came with 72 hard plastic large 28mm figures. I have not played the game often, but the figures have come in useful in games of Dragon Rampant, Rangers of Shadow Deep and Open Combat. I also used them in a GDWS participation game, Conan and the Princess, at Carronade in 2017. The setting for Conan is Hyboria, which Tony Bath adapted for his famous ancients campaign, all explained in the WRG publication, Setting up a Wargames Campaign.

Conan, aided by a Frostgrave wizard, takes on the priest of Set to rescue the princess.


  1. In my youth I also was a big fan of Conan, and Sword & Sorcery in general. As well as the original REH titles, and subsequent pastiches I also collect various Conan comics as well as other S&S-type titles.
    I had already spotted this book, but I’m waiting till it comes out in paperback (“cost of living crisis” etc…).

    1. Very wise. My enthusiasm got the better of me!