Tuesday, March 13, 2012

100 Books #22 - Gav Thorpe's CROWN OF THE CONQUEROR



I was unabashed about my glee at the offerings of the first book in Gav Thorpe's pulp fantasy sandalpunk series, Crown of the Blood, and so my expectations for this second foray into the world of Ullsaard, sometime legionnaire and general in the armies of the Rome-like empire of Askhor, who ended that first book seizing the empire's throne after learning he was the illegitimate son of its prior occupant, were pretty high.

I'm glad to say they were more than met. There is so much pulpy goodness in these books it's hard to know where to start. The lion-riding calvary (after reading this book, I'm inclined more to picture them riding smilodons; anyway, these cats are big and mean, so mean they spend most of their lives helmeted and blinkered lest they go into berserker frenzies!), and that when not riding cats some of the soldiers ride giant lizard-snake things? The endless rounds of betrayals and counter-betrayals in and out of court? The epic battles and dramatic single combats that would delight any military SF/fantasy buff's bloodthirsty little heart? All of that is still there, but wait, there's more.

There wasn't a great deal of magic in the first volume, but Crown of the Conqueror more than makes up for that lack, chiefly in the storyline of one Erlaan, legitimate grandson of the king Ullsaard deposed and killed, who wants the throne back and takes extreme measures to try doing so. The scenes in which he is transformed into a 10-12 foot tall monster with tough, leathery rune-etched skin (shades of Pete V. Brett's Warded Man, only carved instead of painted or tattooed, motherfolklore!) and bronze armor plating riveted directly to his body are among the most gruesome I've read in a long time, at least since the Aztec blood-magic stomach-turning that was Aliette de Bodard's Servant of the Underworld), and when this ensorcelled freak is then presented to a mob of desert tribes as their new king, and they start traveling over the mountains on the backs of giant herbivorous dinosaurs, well, it's hard not to chant "Mu'ad Dib meets Hannibal!" under one's breath as one reads. Which is awesome.

The desert tribes under their new freak king are far from Ullsaard's only trouble, though (just the most entertaining), for he is fighting off, in both a literalized and a figurative way, the restrictions and constrictions that come with kingship, with usurpation; let's just say the ancien regime really doesn't go away in this world. But despite this, he's going ahead with the plan mapped out by his ancestors, of conquering the rest of the known world, and the next in line, well, it sounds a lot like he's taking on the Franks and/or Teutons. You don't have to have read Julius Caesar's commentaries to enjoy this stuff, but I bet it's more fun if you have. Of course, I had just spent four hours listening to Dan Carlin's big ol audiobook/podcast hybrid "Thor's Angels", which is all about the post-Roman world of the Franks and Merovingians and Carolingians, so maybe I just had them on the brain. Anyway, worked for me.

My only regret now is that I have a good seven month wait before Crown of the Usurper comes out. Good thing I have some Conan stories left...

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