Conan the Defender

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Conan the Defender
Conanthedefendercover.JPG
Conan the Defender by Robert Jordan, Tor Books, 1982
Author Robert Jordan
Country United States
Language English
Series Conan the Barbarian
Genre Sword and sorcery Fantasy novel
Publisher Tor Books
Publication date
1982
Media type Print Paperback

Conan the Defender is a fantasy novel written by Robert Jordan featuring Robert E. Howard's sword and sorcery hero Conan the Barbarian. It was first published in trade paperback by Tor Books in December 1982, followed by a regular paperback edition in December 1983. The book was reprinted by Tor in February 1991 and September 2009. The first British edition was published by Legend in September 1996. It was later gathered together with Conan the Invincible and Conan the Unconquered into the omnibus collection The Conan Chronicles (Tor Books, 1995).[1]

Plot summary[edit]

The book opens during midmorning in the mansion of and with Albanus the wizard, Vegentius the Commander of the Golden Leopards (the bodyguard regiment of Nemedia's Kings), Demetrio Amarianus a landowner, Constanto Melius a noble, and Sephana Galerianus a rejected mistress of King Garian.

They are gathered to plot the usurping of the Dragon Throne of the kingdom of Nemedia. During the meeting, Albanus demonstrates some magic to placate and wow his guests by summoning a fire elemental to destroy one of his servants. The conspirators are impressed by this and desire to have some magical devices of their own "As a token that [they] are all equals." Melius chooses a sword imbued with the skills of six master swordsmen. The sword grants the wielder sword mastery.

Moving the focus of the novel to Conan, it describes how the city of Belverus in Nemedia is unsafe, the tariffs exorbitantly high, starvation rampant, sedition brewing, and that King Garian seems ineffective as a ruler. In reality, Albanus is busy funding and controlling all the unrest in Nemedia as a means of focusing hatred on King Garian. Conan is attacked in Belverus by Melius, who it later turns out was driven insane and "possessed" in a fashion by the tortured spirits in the magical sword he was given by Albanus. Albanus did not know that the blade could cause such madness.

Conan is rescued by the town guard who find, to their horror, that they have just slain a noble.

Conan picks up the blade and wraps it with the hopes of selling it for a few pieces of silver. Shortly thereafter, Conan meets up with Hordo, a friend of his from several previous and mostly unsuccessful quests who is now a smuggler. Hordo tries to get Conan a job as a smuggler as well, but is harangued by his boss for not being cautious enough (exposing a smuggler fetches a high bounty). Hordo decides to quit his job and join Conan in his mercenary venture.

Hordo is often used as a foil to Conan, contrasting the intelligence of Conan to Hordo's less sophisticated thought process and abilities of perception.

The pair go to a tavern where Conan's fortune is divinated by an old man. The same fortune appears on the first page of the first mass market printing. The first part of the prophecy comes true as Conan thwarts an attempt by a lady patron of the tavern from pick pocketing him.

Leaving the tavern, Conan and Hordo noticed they are being followed by what turns out to Ariane, a poet and patron the inn the Sign of Thestis. The three are then attacked by footpads. All the footpads are slain. Hordo and Conan then spend the night at the Sign of Thestis, telling stories of their adventures.

Conan learns that the Thestians (Including Ariane and Sephano, a sculptor) are plotting an uprising against the king along with Taras and the mercenaries which he is hiring to aid in the uprising.

Conan and Hordo then are attacked by more armed murderers. Conan figures someone is out to kill him, though he knows not who. It turns out later to be Albanus trying to recover the magic sword and cover up all traces of it. Upon returning to the Thestis, Conan sells the magic sword of Melius to Demetrio, an agent of Albanus, for fifty gold marks.

Conan uses the money from the sword to found his own free-company of mercenaries and teaches them horse archer techniques unknown to the Nemedian forces.

The next time Conan returns to the Thestis, Conan receives a message that he should meet Hordo at the Sign of the Full Moon. The Thestians are worried that they may be betrayed, but Conan allays these fears by vowing to never betray them.

At the Sign of the Full Moon, Conan is ambushed and attacked by assassins. He is also pursued by the Belverus town guard who have also been paid off by Albanus. The message was fake.

The next day, Ariane sets up a meeting for Conan with Taras to see if Conan can be hired for the uprising. It turns out Taras is not hiring mercenaries and intends to kill Conan as per Albanus's request. The attempt is thwarted and the ambushers are all killed by Conan. Ariane, having followed Conan, sees the butchery and believes that Conan has betrayed them.

The horse archer skills get Conan's company a job in the Nemedian military and Conan a room within the palace, much to the dismay of Vegentius the conspirator. Conan winds up practicing his sword skills with King Garian and besting Garian each time.

Meanwhile, Albanus has captured Stephano the sculptor and forced him to create a likeness of King Garian. Conan is asked by the king to deliver a letter to Albanus. While at the palace, Conan sees Stephano and later tells Ariane where Stephano has gone. Ariane goes to find Stephano at Albanus's mansion but is captured and hypnotized by Albanus.

During a walk through the palace grounds Conan and Horto come across Vegentius wrestling with his men in tests of strength. Seeing Conan he challenges Conan. Conan defeats him after long battle where the two giants trade blows that would fell a normal man. Conan now recognizes Vagentius as one of the men who plotted against the king and attempted to kill Conan in ambush the other evening.

Shortly afterward, King Garian summons Conan. The king wants Conan to deliver a message to Lord Albanus because he must borrow money from him because the kingdom is running out of money. Conan takes this opportunity to tell him of Valentius's plans to see the king detroned. King Garian, listens to him then assures Conan that Valentius has been loyal to him and his father before him and not to worry.

As Conan his free company ride through the city to leave, Horto tells him of strange changes where people have been clearing the streets as if afraid of something or given orders to do so.

Conan arrives at Lord Albanus's where he's questioned at sword point by the lord's guards of his intent. Conan grows suspicious when the guards and staff don't treat a royal messenger with hospitality.

While waiting Conan sees a drunken Stephano in the courtyard below. Furious that the gods would send Conan, the man he wanted dead, to deliver a message and taunting him he sets his plans in motion.

Reception[edit]

Reviewer Ryan Harvey considers this, Jordan's second Conan story, "a lesser novel" than the first, Conan the Invincible, but "can recommend [it] as a satisfying if flawed" entry in the series. He finds "much to enjoy in Conan the Defender, noting that "Jordan has the writing chops to pull off the story," which "makes for a good read" and "reads easily. The pages fly past, even away from the furious action." He praises the author's "action set-pieces [as] some of the best and most clearly described from any pastiche author, and he comes up with clever combat ideas." Harvey finds the palace-storming finale "exciting" and "enjoyable" and notes that "Jordan even manages to toss in a snappy plot twist that genuinely surprises." He also considers the heroine Ariane "a refreshing change from the 'helpless wench' or 'tough warrior woman' cliché [who] has realism to her found infrequently in this kind of tale."

On the down side, "[t]he story bogs down in places where too many characters get involved in conspiracies ... a few of [which] never amount to much," and "[s]ome parts of the plot are never explained." Harvey feels "the novel's major flaw" is that "[f]or more than half of the book, Conan has scan reason to get involved," and "not until late in the book does [he] really find a place in the story." The author "provides no major 'turning point' or 'moment of realization' that seals Conan into the plot and gives him a strong direction." In regard to Jordan's style, Harvey criticizes "his occasional reliance on archaic English words that feel out of place."[2]

Fan reviewer Lagomorph Rex writes "I enjoyed the book" and "[i]f you want a good Conan story, you can't really go wrong with this one." He does perceive Jordan "still some what getting the hang of the character, and perhaps still unintentionally basing him more off the Conan of the John Milius film than on the Conan of Robert E. Howard." He also observes the presence of "ideas and scenes, both good and bad, littered through" it and Jordan's other Conan pastiches "which were either re-purposed, reused or simply rough drafts" for his later "Wheel of Time" series. More positively, the reviewer notes the book's "clear chronological connections to previous [Conan] works" and the way it "goes to some effort to start setting up "Queen of the Black Coast." He also finds the book "a bit dense in terms of political machinations, and might require a few re-reads of certain pages in order to really follow whats going on" but feels "these scenes rarely slow down the story telling." "What's more, it begins hinting at how precariously balanced the power structure in Nemedia truly is, something which will pay off handsomely by the time [of] The Hour of the Dragon."[3]

Notes[edit]

Preceded by
Conan the Invincible
Tor Conan series
(publication order)
Succeeded by
Conan the Unconquered
Preceded by
Conan the Savage
Complete Conan Saga
(William Galen Gray chronology)
Succeeded by
Conan the Triumphant