Friday, 24 October 2014

'The Flame Knife' - Robert E. Howard & L. Sprague de Camp

Well, I was going to try and break things up a little bit but if I'm being absolutely honest, 'The Flame Knife' looked like another quick read that would give me time to get in a couple of extra games of 'Frozen Free Fall' before I got to work. I've been filling up my phone with 'Frozen' stuff just recently, Hope is really into it (that's my excuse and I'm sticking to it), and some of the apps I've found are a real testament to just how far developers will go to jam an idea into a concept. I can just about get my head around the whole 'look after baby Ana and Elsa' app (cos' they were babies once upon a time) but the 'stitch up the large gash on Ana's face' app…? Nope, me neither. Hope loves it though, she's bloodthirsty like that…

But, 'The Flame Knife'…
A little digging (thanks 'Conan Wiki'!) revealed that 'The Flame Knife' was originally an El Borak tale that De Camp reworked (extensively too) into a 'new' Howard story for publication in 1955. This feels more than a little harsh to me; poor El Borak and poor everyone else who thought that they were getting a brand new tale. It's not as if the tale was worked from a fragment either, it's a re-jigging of something that was already doing the rounds. Like I said, poor El Borak… I couldn't help but have this at the back of my mind while I was reading 'The Flame Knife' which is a bit of a shame because it's a very entertaining read.

Now leader of a group of kozaki, Conan, on the run from the displeased king of Iranistan, finds himself in the demon-infested mountain ranges of Drujistan where he discovers a hidden city and the secrets of the cultish Hidden Ones. 

The danger of following one 'Conan' review with another 'Conan' review is that you don't really leave yourself with room to say anything new; especially when the second tale is written by the same author who wrote the first one. You don't have to feel sorry for me or anything but, well… Maybe feel a little bit sorry for me. It's a tough line to walk though. The length of 'The Flame Knife' gives De Camp more room to explore the world of Conan and the reader gets to follow Conan through some gloriously bleak desert landscapes as a result. Or is it El Borak? I'll stop with that now…

Whoever and whatever, 'The Flame Knife' has all the hallmarks of a classic Conan tale; more than likely because Howard's hand is more evident in the proceedings rather than 'just being the muse' as he was for 'Black Tears'. All the usual ingredients are there (I loved the bit with the obligatory huge monster that Conan has to defeat) but there just seems to be more zest and energy to the proceedings. As it happened, I ended up giving 'Frozen Free Fall' a miss so I could finish reading 'The Flame Knife' and that says it all really (given that my attention span has shrunk to the size of my phone screen). 'The Flame Knife' can be found in 'Conan the Wanderer'. 

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