Conan at the Demon's Gate
Cover of first edition
|Cover artist||Ken Kelly|
|Series||Conan the Barbarian|
|Genre||Sword and sorcery|
|Media type||Print (Paperback)|
Conan at the Demon's Gate is a fantasy novel by American writer Roland Green, featuring Robert E. Howard's sword and sorcery hero Conan the Barbarian. It was first published in trade paperback by Tor Books in November 1994; a regular paperback edition followed from the same publisher in August 1996.
In a first-person prologue set during the sixth year of the reign of Conan the Second of Aquilonia (formerly Prince Conn), the soldier Nidaros tells of his company's harrowing experiences during a frontier war with the Picts, culminating when he, his companion Sarabos and their followers are trapped by the enemy in a cave. The Picts seem to fear the place, understandably, since it shows signs of having once been a place sacred to Set, the serpent god of Stygia. Oddly, the Aquilonians also discover in it a great stone statue in the image of the former king Conan the First (or Conan the Great, as he is also remembered). Should they doubt it, they need only look at Sarabos; it is an open secret that he is a bastard son of the first Conan, and hence a half-brother of Conn.
The tale then shifts to events many years earlier in the life of Conan the First, well before he became ruler of Aquilonia, in the wake of "Queen of the Black Coast." Following the death of his lover, the pirate queen Belit, Conan strikes inland into the jungles of Kush. He encounters and falls in with a band of Bamula tribesmen. Aiding the Bamulas in their conflicts with an enemy tribe, he rises to a position of precarious authority among them.
Then strange creatures alien to the area begin showing up to threaten the Bamulas, including a dragon and a polar bear. They turn out to have been transported through a magical portal. Entering the portal with his warriors in an attempt to end the threat, Conan and his warriors find themselves teleported to the far-distant Pictish Wilderness. The portal, the "Demon's Gate," turns out to be the work of an exiled wizard there. He intends to sacrifice Conan's band to animate a statue of an ancient warrior for his own evil purposes.
Plot complications present themselves in the form of the wizard's beautiful daughter and the primitive native Picts, who are violently hostile to all strangers. All of Conan's prowess and craft are needed to deal with the impossible situation as one threat follows another in rapid succession.
Much of the concluding portion of the story is narrated to Nidaros and Sarabos by their comrade in arms Vasilios, a half-Pictish Aquilonian warrior who had heard it in turn from his Pictish mother. The tale gradually unfolds of how Conan eventually defeated his enemies and transported himself and his followers safely back to the Bamula country—and how the statue took on his aspect.
An epilogue returns the scene to Nidaros, Sarabos and their companions listening to the end of Vasilios's tale. The company is saved from the besieging Picts by a relief force that had been informed of its plight by a mysterious messenger the very evening it was trapped in the cave. According to Vasilios, it is said that the statue will aid the blood-kin of the warrior it is fashioned after at need, and the three speculate that the messenger was a magical sending from the statue, prompted by Sarabos's presence. They decide to keep silent about it.
Critic Don D'Ammassa wrote "The two halves of the novel feel very different – an African survival story followed by the familiar battle with sorcery. Okay, but Green's weakest Conan novel to date."
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