Sword Woman and Other Historical Adventures By Robert E. Howard

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 The immortal legacy of Robert E. Howard, creator of Conan the Cimmerian, continues with this latest compendium of Howard’s fiction and poetry. These adventures, set in medieval-era Europe and the Near East, are among the most gripping Howard ever wrote, full of pageantry, romance, and battle scenes worthy of Tolstoy himself. Most of all, they feature some of Howard’s most unusual and memorable characters, including Cormac FitzGeoffrey, a half-Irish, half-Norman man of war who follows Richard the Lion-hearted to twelfth-century Palestine—or, as it was known to the Crusaders, Outremer; Diego de Guzman, a Spaniard who visits Cairo in the guise of a Muslim on a mission of revenge; and the legendary sword woman Dark Agnès, who, faced with an arranged marriage to a brutal husband in sixteenth-century France, cuts the ceremony short with a dagger thrust and flees to forge a new identity on the battlefield.

Lavishly illustrated by award-winning artist John Watkiss and featuring miscellanea, informative essays, and a fascinating introduction by acclaimed historical author Scott Oden, Sword Woman and Other Historical Adventures is a must-have for every fan of Robert E. Howard, who, in a career spanning just twelve years, won a place in the pantheon of great American writers. Sword Woman and Other Historical Adventures

A fantastic collection of Robert E. Howard's historical fiction. These unedited and unabridged stories appear just as Howard wrote them back in the pulp era. Fast paced action is always a mark of a Howard story, and these are no exception. Highly recommended English The historical fiction stories was written later in Howard's short career maybe thats why i find it to be among his best,mature writing. This collection has all the historical stories in Lord of Samarcand collection plus the 2 Dark Agnes stories,Spears of Clontarf story about The Battle of Clontarf. He made a great epic story of that battle and his gaelic blood made the historical heroes of that battle shine.

Sword Woman,Blades for France are the two completed stories for Dark Agnes de Chastillon and they were was an eye opener for me. Great but believable action for Agnes unlike his male heroes. Interesting how the stories wasnt published in his life time. Some critics calls Howard's writing misogynist because how Conan stories have feeble females who cling to Conan,work only as eye candy. You have to remember the fantasy pulp readers demanded that kind of sex like some other genre readers do today..

Agnes story starts as a young peasant girl fighting to flee an arranged marriege,a way of life that would break her body,spirit to become a free woman dreaming of glory,adventure. No wonder it didnt sell to editors in historical pulps that was male hero dominated. You can believe she was written for feminist reasons and not by a pulp writer known for macho fanatasy,adventure. They were not ready for female warrior in historical fiction genre then. There were female fantasy heroines but there couldnt be heroines in the real world...

If she was published in his times maybe Agnes would have got her fair due and not be so underrated among his many character series. In 2011 atleast she is a wonderful character, a hardcore swordswoman who in the hands of a master adventure writer puts most female action heroines to shame.

English First-rate adventure stories by Howard. As per the title, these are straight historicals -- no monsters or wizards or elephant-headed demons holding court in the ruins of fabulous pre-human cities; instead, we get an assortment (a most compelling assortment) of rough men (and women!), mostly bashing around the middle and near east, mostly during the time of the Crusades.

As always with Howard the action can only be described as breakneck, and the stories move with the speed and momentum of a runaway locomotive.

The astonishing thing (well, to me, at least) was that a young man in his 20s, living in small-town Texas in the 1920s, could amass such an astonishing wealth of historical detail -- I can't say how accurate the stories were, but whether set in Ireland or the Holy Land or the steppes of Asia, they never seemed to lack verisimilitude. English 2.5 out of 5 stars.

It pains me to give any Howard work such a low rating as I'm a huge fan of his and his work has had a big impact on my writing and reading experiences. However, this just isn't a strong collection. Many of the stories I had to drudge my way through or honestly skip all together.

Howard's description/prose is as top notch as ever but most of the plots make little sense and there isn't much tension to pull the reader into the story. Worst of all, the characterization that makes Howard's other works so popular/great is severely lacking in most of the stories. In the cases where the narrative stayed mostly or solely with one character, Howard's talent shined again. That's why the two Dark Agnes tales are by far the best of this collection and honestly might be some of the best stuff Howard ever wrote. I also liked the Cormac FitzGeoffrey stories though the character has all the skill/bravado of Conan without any of the substance. There are maybe a couple of other decent tales, but for the most part the Agnes and Cormac tales are what stopped me from giving up completley on the collection.

This is probably only for a diehard Howard fan but even then it pales in comparison to Conan, Solomon Kane, Kull, and Bran Mak Morn. English Immersing myself in this collection of Robert E. Howard’s writing, my first foray into reading his work, I discovered some of the most direct and explosive tales of action and adventure I’ve ever read. I’ve frequently been attracted to historical fiction, but nothing I’ve read has sparked my imagination as well as Howard’s bold writing style. Beyond the stories in this collection are some unfinished fragments left behind by the author, remembered for decades as creator of famous characters, Conan, Kull, and Solomon Kane, to name but a few. Even these fragments contain the seeds of solid story telling, had they been fleshed out properly. Every tale leaves you hungry for more.

Howard’s writing throws you into the action, vividly sketching scenes showing the color of dawn or darkness, the sharp scent of fresh-spilt blood, the grit of dust flying in each battle. Each tale may follow hero and villain in turns, brave knight and errant knave, driven by promise of glory or riches or fame. Most tales herein are set during the various waves of Crusades into the exotic sands and coastlines of the eastern Mediterranean.

Characters loom larger than life and take action almost before you’ve properly met them, or their enemies, and part of the fun is to discover their true motivations. One such grim fighting soul is Cormac FitzGeoffrey in The Blood of Belshazzar and other tales:

“The giant Norman-Celt was an opportunist. He knew that such chance as had led him into the heart of his foe’s stronghold was not likely to favor him again. Life was uncertain in Outremer; if he waited another opportunity to strike at Nureddin and Kosru Malik, that opportunity might not come. This was his best opportunity for the vengeance for which his barbaric soul lusted.” - excerpt from Hawks of Outremer

Robert E. Howard wrote prolifically to meet market demand for his work, diving into his stories, possessed by the need to craft them. I recently watched the film “The Whole Wide World” based on the journals kept by his very close friend Novalyne Price Ellis, and this touching and profound film showcases the passions that drove Howard. Even through the dark days of the Depression and the shrinking of spare income, Howard’s stories sold, and the magazines selling such thrilling tales of adventure and romance and thrilling mystery abounded, publishing as often as three times per month.

“‘Such eyes had Editha,’ said he softly. ‘Aye, child, your face bears me back half a century. You shall not fall into the hands of the heathen while the last Saxon king can lift a sword. I have drawn my blade in many a less worthy brawl on the red roads I have walked. I will draw it again, little one.’” - The Road of Azrael

Howard could have brought so much wonderful storytelling into the world, had he lived beyond the tender age of 30. Had he seen what came later in so many genres: mystery, fantasy, horror, and beyond. He not only wrote prolifically, he loved the research involved in his craft. Fascinating would have been Howard’s approach, as he might have explored and applied his prodigious talent and writing skill.

In the Appendices of this volume, Howard Andrew Jones wrote a helpful study about REH’s writings, entitled “Howard’s Journey: Historical Influences to Historical Triumphs” and it tidily sums up the world, attitudes and time in which these stories were created, explaining the pulp market and the battle of popularity each genre suffered over the years. I found this a helpful way to wrap up the reading of this exciting book.

The two stories and one fragment about Dark Agnes, the Sword Woman herself, never saw publication during Howard’s life, possibly due to the greater demand for male protagonists and the more typical plots of sword and sorcery, adventure and mystery tales. Set in France in the mid-1500s, she was born Agnes de le Fere and her bold spirit flares in contrast to the conventional thinking about women in similar swashbuckling tales:

“‘Ever the man in men!’ I said between my teeth. ‘Let a woman know her proper place: let her milk and spin and sew and bake and bear children, nor look beyond her threshold or the command of her lord and master! Bah! I spit on you all! There is no man alive who can face me with weapons and live, and before I die, I’ll prove it to the world. Women! Cows! Slaves! Whimpering, cringing serfs, crouching to blows, revenging themselves by — taking their own lives, as my sister urged me to do. Ha! You deny me a place among men? By God, I’ll live as I please and die as God wills, but if I’m not fit to be a man’s comrade, at least I’ll be no man’s mistress. So go ye to hell, Guiscard de Clisson, and may the devil tear your heart!’” - Sword Woman English

This Del Rey trade paperback original collection, ‘Sword Woman And Other Historical Adventures’, consists of number of stories and a few poems and fragments along with interesting essays on where the works first appeared and who influenced Robert E. Howard’s historical tales. The stories are a stylish precursor to the sword and sorcery stories, Conan et al, Howard was to write later. It is worth noting, in each case, the historical accuracy as it is this which distinguishes the yarns from the pure fantasy of made-up worlds. They were mostly published in ‘Oriental Stories’, a magazine put out by Farnsworth Wright, editor of ‘Weird Tales’. Sadly, mainly for Robert E. Howard, the magazine only lasted four years and some of these tales remained unpublished in his lifetime. In a brief survey of this 550 page tome, I shall pick out the highlights, of which there are many.

The book opens with an interesting introduction by Scott Oden, well worth reading, but the first story is ‘Spears Of Clontarf’, a tale of mighty Irishmen. Brian Boru, king of the Gaels, is moving against King Sitric of Dublin, a Viking, and Sitric’s seafaring allies are gathering for the slaughter. Conn, our hero, fell out with Brian Boru a while back and is now in thrall to a Norseman but the coming battle is too big to miss. He kills his master and makes his way back to Ireland to fight at Brian’s side. History and Wikkipedia tell us that King Brian confronted his enemies at Clontarf, near Dublin, on Good Friday in 1014, so the background is broadly true. Howard conveys the slaughter with his usual style.

This Gaelic malarkey is followed by a number of stories about the crusades. ‘Hawks Over Egypt’ is set in Cairo in 1021 AD and features assorted Moors, Turks, Franks and others all trying to kill, kidnap, loot or double cross each other in various ways. We sometimes think our modern cosmopolitanism is a new thing and forget that many an ancient metropolis was just as much a melting pot as New York. Trade, slavery and war led to a mingling of different types in the great cities of the past.

‘The Road Of Azrael’ is another tale of the orient, as Howard called it. Eric de Cogran is a knight who at the sacking of Jerusalem, spared the life of a boy called Kosru Malik, merely because he was sick of slaughter. They meet later in different circumstances but Malik has not forgotten the good deed. ‘The Road Of Azrael’ is a story of intrigue which gets very complicated so you might lose the plot. I think I did. According to the Howard Andrew Jones, who contributes an excellent essay at the end of the book, Howard learned many techniques for his historical fiction from the great Harold Lamb, who published regularly in the pulps of the time and is still well regarded today. In these stories, there are often three or four characters with different interests, all trying to betray one another while making loose alliances as circumstances alter. A sneaky lot.

In the ‘The Lion Of Tiberius’, it is John Norwald, a northern Englishman with the blood of Danes in his veins, who was spared by a kindly enemy. This time it was the Muslim who was merciful, one Ahmet, the son of an emir. Zenghi esh Shami is the lion of the title, famous for his deeds at the siege of that city. Zenghi is not nice. In truth, this was one of the most bloodthirsty of a pretty gory collection of tales. You could get away with a lot in the pulp fiction of the 1930s it seems, as with the other arts. Censorship came in later decades.

In ‘Hawks Of Outremer’, the hero is Cormac Fitzgeoffrey, a Norman-Gael with a mane of black hair, steely blue eyes and a low brow. Cormac disdains to use weapons on a foul man who has been torturing a lithe, scantily-clad wench in a dungeon. When the weed attacks him with a dagger, he simply squeezes the villain’s wrist so tight that the bones are crushed blood comes out of his fingertips. Then he squeezes the villain’s throat, ‘grinding flesh and vertebrae to a crimson pulp.’ Cormac is stronger than Conan, it seems. He may be stronger than the Hulk (Incredible not Hogan). Saladin features in this as a noble gentleman. Howard is often accused of racism but in the historical fiction, his Moslems are frequently depicted as decent chaps and his Franks are sometimes treacherous. He was fair, overall.

Cormac features again in ‘The Blood Of Belshazzar’, joining the outlaw band of Skol Abdhur, the butcher, and he’s not called that because he knows how to joint a chicken. Oh no. He rips the eyeball out of a slow slave before dinner. Skol owns the blood of Belshazzar, a ruby beyond price that has a terrible history. Is it cursed? You decide. Like many other Howard yarns this was turned into a ‘Conan’ story by Roy Thomas at Marvel Comics.

‘Red Blades Of Black Cathay’ has Godric de Villehard on a mission to the far east to find the kingdom of Prester John. He rescues a princess from bandits and she takes him back to Black Cathay, a portion of the slightly dismembered Chinese empire currently under threat from Genghis Khan. Like Saladin and Tamerlane in the next story, Genghis gets quite favourable treatment from the author. Slaughtering was par for the course at the time and Robert Ervin Howard is happy to give you a favourable write up as long as you were good at it. I think if his fantasies had not had an outlet in adventure fiction, he might have gone round lopping the heads off his fellow Texans with a mighty broadsword, laughing all the while.

In ‘Lord of Samarcand’, we meet Donald MacDeesa, a Scottish warrior who is so mean and grumpy he makes Conan look like a joyous optimist. When the Franks fall before the Muslims in the Battle of Nicopolis, he escapes and is recruited by a Mongol warrior, impressed by his strength, and taken to Samarcand to serve the great Emperor Tamerlane. Donald MacDeesa lacked even the slight redeeming features that make Howard heroes a little bit likeable and I didn’t much care for him but the story was of the usual high quality.

‘Sword Woman’ is the piece after which the book is named, perhaps to pull in female readers. In life, Howard did not have much to do with the ladies and his mighty men do not usually treat them with great respect. Yet he had a knack for creating strong female characters now and then, tough wenches who can outfight most men and are glad to do so. They generally regard men as comrades rather than lovers and are not so gentle as women are traditionally meant to be. Agnès de Chastillon is one such. Her father beats her regularly and on the day she is due to marry a fat pig of a man, her elder sister slips her a dagger with which to commit suicide. Instead, she stabs the husband-to-be and runs away. She then falls in with various rogues and mercenaries and finds she has a talent for fighting. The future beckons.

‘Blades for France’ is the future for Agnès de Chastillon and the particular rogue she fell in with at the end of ‘Sword Woman.’ The events take place just a few days after the preceding yarn and it’s another tale of treachery, heroism and gory swordsmanship or rather swordswomanship, which my spellchecker – programmed no doubt by a man – won’t accept. Agnès was good fun to read about but she’s not the sort you would take home to meet mother.

‘The Shadow Of The Vulture’ features another female warrior and a German hero, Gottfried von Kalmbach. Gottfried is targeted by Suleiman the Magnificent as one who dealt the mighty emperor a wounding blow at the Battle of Mohacz. Suleiman wants the German’s head and his loyal servant, the Grand Vizier, duly dispatches Mikhal Oglu, known as the Vulture, to get it. Gottfried flees to Vienna and takes part in the defence of that city against Suleiman’s huge army in 1529. He is aided in this by a fierce scarlet-haired swordswoman named Red Sonya, who claims to be sister to Roxelana, a former harem girl who is now the mighty emperor’s queen. This is a great story and full, too, of real life historical characters and action to give it greater depth. It, too, was made into a ‘Conan’ story by Roy Thomas.

‘The Road Of The Eagles’ is a convoluted tale of assorted outlaws trying to capture the brother of a sultan. Usually, when a sultan died, the one who inherited the title killed all his brothers and their entire families so there would be no future contest for the throne. This was a bit brutal but did avoid civil wars. Sometimes a merciful sultan might put a popular brother in jail instead or send him away west as a hostage. Prince Orkhan is the brother of a sultan and is exiled in a mountain fortress. Corsairs, Cossacks and Turkomans fight among themselves to capture him. It was well told, as usual, but lacked focus as the reader’s sympathies are not directed to any particular protagonist. Not that Howard’s heroes usually deserve or would want sympathy.

If, like me, you did not cover this period of world history very well at school, it’s not a bad idea to research some of this on the Internet to enrich your appreciation of the story. According to the essay by Howard Andrew Jones that concludes the book, Howard (Robert E.) did his best to learn the relevant history before embarking on this side of his career but was hampered by the lack of resources in rural Texas. He learned a lot from reading Lamb but also wrote to the editors of ‘Adventure’ magazine, which published Lamb’s stories, to ask questions about the background facts. Robert would probably have given his right arm for the Internet.

The illustrations are of oddly mixed quality. Some are excellent and some look pretty crude but they are all by the same chap, John Watkiss. I imagine he varied his style to suit the tale. A not inconsiderable number look like they could be panels from ‘The Savage Sword Of Conan’, but I suppose this is inevitable. Overall, this is a very good quality presentation from Del Rey of some excellent adventurous historical fiction. Like many anthologies, it is best taken in small bites, else your head will spin like a dervish as you struggle with the many strange names. But they are delicious bites, mostly.

Eamonn Murphy
This review first appeared at https://www.sfcrowsnest.info/ English Βιβλιοέναυσμα #62: Sword Woman and Other Historical Adventures
(Ολόκληρο το άρθρο και στο ιστολόγιό μου, Κοιλάδα της Γνώσης: https://www.koiladatisgnosis.gr/logot...)

Πιστός στην δέσμευσή μου να γράφω για κάθε ιστορία τού Robert E. Howard (δημιουργού τού Κόναν του Βάρβαρου) που διαβάζω, σας παρουσιάζω σε αυτό το άρθρο την συλλογή ιστορικών περιπετειών Sword Woman and Other Historical Adventures!

Οι εκδόσεις Del Rey έχουν μαζέψει στις 547 σελίδες τού εν λόγω τόμου όλες τις περιπέτειες τού Howard με ιστορική διάσταση (εκτός τις του El Borak και όσες έχουν ισχυρό φανταστικό στοιχείο), ταξινομημένες λίγο-πολύ με χρονολογική σειρά. Οι περισσότερες ιστορίες διαδραματίζονται στο πλαίσιο των Σταυροφοριών, αρκετές τριγύρω από τους Μογγόλους, και λίγες στην Γαλλία τού 16ου αιώνα. Δεν μπορώ να πω ότι πρόκειται για τις καλύτερες ιστορίες τού Howard. Αντιθέτως, συγκρινόμενες με τις ιστορίες τού Κόναν, αφήνουν μία αίσθηση προχειρότητας και ατέλειας, χωρίς όμως να στερούν την απόλαυση από την αναγνώστη. Ο πρωταγωνιστής είναι συνήθως ένα κυνηγημένος/παρεξηγημένος/τυχοδιώκτης Φράγκος/Ιρλανδός, που θυμίζει υπερβολικά πολύ τον… Κόναν (ο Χάουαρντ είχε πάθος με την ιρλανδική ιστορία), που – πάλι συνήθως – ενώνει τις δυνάμεις του με κάποιον ανατολίτη. Ισχυρές θεματικές είναι η σωτηρία μίας κορασίδας εν κινδύνω (αγγλιστί, damsel in distress) και η εκδίκηση. Πολλές ιστορίες δημοσιεύτηκαν στο περιοδικό Oriental Stories. Η εικονογράφηση ήταν καλή, όχι όμως τού επιπέδου τού αντίστοιχου τόμου με τον Solomon Kane.

Παρακάτω, λέω δύο λόγια για κάθε ιστορία (παραλείπω τα ποιήματα και τις μισοτελειωμένες ιστορίες):

- Spears of Clontarf (32 σ., Spears of Clontarf, 1978): εξιστόρηση τής περίφημης μάχης του Clontarf, μεταξύ Ιρλανδών και Βίκινγκ το 1014 μ.Χ. κοντά στο Δουβλίνο. Πρωταγωνιστής είναι ο Conn, ένας γιγάντιος Ιρλανδός που σκοτώνει τον Νορβηγό αφέντη του ώστε να πολεμήσει στην επικείμενη μάχη. Ωραίο το ελάχιστο στοιχείο φανταστικού με τις μαντείες, κάπου το έχασε η ιστορία προσπαθώντας να ακουλουθήσει πολλούς χαρακτήρες.

- Hawks Over Egypt (35 σ., The Road of Azreal, 1979): στο Κάιρο τού 1021, ο Ισπανός Diego de Guzman επιχειρεί να κλείσει παλιούς λογαριασμούς. Σύντομα όμως ανακαλύπτει πως ο μεγαλύτερος κίνδυνος για την χώρα του είναι ο Φατιμίδης Χαλίφης Al Hakim και τα σχέδιά του για παγκόσμια κυριαρχία… Εξαιρετικά καλογραμμένη ιστορία, με ενδιαφέροντες χαρακτήρες (εκτός του Guzman, έχουμε τον Τούρκο μισθοφόρο Al Afdhal, τον εχθρό του Guzman Zahir el Ghazi, την βενετσιάνα Zaida, και την Zulaikha) και πολλές υποπλοκές που δένουν θαυμάσια για το ��λιμακωτό τέλος. Από τις καλύτερες τής συλλογής και με εξαιρετική απεικόνιση τού Καΐρου τής εποχής. Την ξανάγραψε ο L. Sprague de Camp στην Υβορειανή Εποχή και με τον Κόναν στον ρόλο τού Guzman, με τίτλο Hawsk over Shem, και την δημοσίευσε στην συλλογή Tales of Conan (1955).

- The Road of Azrael (35 σ., Chacal, 1976): ένας Τούρκος μισθοφόρος, ο Kosru Malik, συναντάει τυχαία (βρε βρε, κάτι συμπτώσεις) τον Sir Eric de Cogan, ο οποίος του είχε χαρίσει την ��ωή προ δεκαετίας στην πτώση της Ιερουαλήμ το 1099. Οι δυο του ενώνουν τις δυνάμεις τους για να σώσουν την Ettaire, που ο θείος της William de Brose την έχει στείλει ως δώρο στον σουλτάνο Muhammad Kham. Η παρουσία Αράβων επιδρομέων θα περιπλέξει τα πράγματα, ενώ από τα καλύτερα στοιχεία τής ιστορίας είναι η deux-ex-machina εμφάνιση ενός υποτιθέμενα νεκρού Σάξονα βασιλέα…

- The Lion of Tiberias (27 σ., The Magic Carpet Magazine, 1933): ο Φράγκος John Norwald στέλνεται στις γαλέρες από τον πανίσχυρο Τούρκο ηγέτη Imad al-Din Zengi. Η ιστορία αναλίσκεται στο πώς ο Zengi τρομοκρατεί τους εχθρούς τους τις πρώτες δεκαετίες τού 12ου αιώνα, ενώ ο Sir Miles du Courcey προσπαθεί να γλιτώσει την Ellen de Tremont από το χαρέμι τού Zengi. Και μην ξεχνάμε πως ο Norwald έχει ορκιστεί εκδίκηση…

- Gates of Empire (33 σ., Golden Freece, 1939): ο Giles Hobson δραπετεύει στην Μέση Ανατολή από το εγγλέζικο κάστο τού Godfrey de Courtenay, καθώς πάνω στο μεθύσι του σκάρωσε μια φάρσα που παραλίγο να στοιχίσει την ζωή τού Godfrey. Το καράβι του δέχεται επίθεση από πειρατές και καταλήγει στο Κάιρο, μέσα στις δολοπλοκίες των εκεί φατριών και του σταυροφορικού Βασιλείου της Ιερουσαλήμ… Καλούτσικη.

- Hawks of Outremer (27 σ., Oriental Stories, 1931): κατατρεγμένος από τους Ιρλανδούς, ο Cormac FitzGeoffrey εγκαταλείπει για πολλοστή φορά το νησί του για τους Αγίους Τόπους. Όταν μαθαίνει ότι ο παλιός του αρχηγός Sieur Gerard de Gissclin δολοφονήθηκε, αποφασίζει να πάρει εκδίκηση… Πολύ καλή ιστορία, ήταν ο κύριος λόγος που ήθελα να διαβάσω την συλλογή καθώς την είχα πετύχει και σε graphic novel (το οποίο επίσης θέλω να διαβάσω).

- The Blood of Belshazzar (27 σ., Oriental Stories, 1931): πάλι με τον Cormac FitzGeoffrey, τώρα σε ένα κάστρο με πολλές φατρίες και ένα πετράδι που το εποφθαλμιούν όλοι. Είχε λίγο αστυνομικό στοιχείο όπως η ιστορία με Κόναν Ο Θεός της Σαρκοφάγου (δείτε τι έγραψα για αυτό εδώ: https://www.koiladatisgnosis.gr/logot...) και ισχυρή διάσταση λαβκραφτικού τρόμου. Ω ναι..

- Red Blades of Black Cathay (27 σ., Oriental Stories, 1931): ο Godric de Villehard στέλνεται ανατολικά (πολύ ανατολικά) σε αναζήτηση τού περίφημου βασιλείου τού Πρεσβύτερου Ιωάννη και καταλήγει να υπερασπίζεται ένα κινέζικο βασίλειο από τις μογγολικές ορδές. Μέτρια.

- The Sowers of the Thunder (37 σ., Oriental Stories, 1932): μία δυνατή ιστορία στον 13ο αιώνα, με τον Ιρλανδό Cahal Ruadh O’Donnell να αντιμάχεται στην πάροδο των χρόνων τον πανίσχυρο σουλτάνο Baibars…

- Lord of Samarcand (33 σ., Oriental Stories, 1932): ο Σκοτσέζος Donald Mac Deesa, επιζών τής σφαγής των σταυροφόρων στην Μάχη της Νικοπόλεως το 1396, καταφεύγει στην αυλή τού Ταμερλάνου για να πάρει εκδίκηση από τον Βαγιαζήτ…

- Sword Woman (33 σ., REH: Lone Star Fictioneer, 1975): η πρώτη ιστορία τής σκληρής Agnes de Chastillon, μιας φοβερής ηρωίδας τού Howard! Στην Γαλλία τού 16ου αιώνα, η Agnes σκοτώνει (!!) τον μέλλοντα σύζυγό της για να αποφύγει τον γάμο, και καθώς τρέχει να γλιτώσει μπλέκει στα πόδια κάποιων πολύ επικίνδυνων ανθρώπων…

- Blades for France (31 σ., Blades for France, 1975): πάλι με την Agnes, η οποία ανακαλύπτει μία συνωμοσία σκοτεινών αντρών με μάσκες και έχει να αντιμετωπίσει και έναν παλιό εχθρό…

- The Shadow of the Vulture (35 σ., The Magic Carpet Magazine, 1934): η πολιορκία τής Βιέννης από τον Σουλεϊμάν το 1529, και στο βάθος η κόντρα τού Σουλεϊμάν με τον Γερμανό Gottfried von Kalmbach και την… Red Sonya! Ναι, καλά διαβάσετε, Red Soya, μόνο που δεν έχει καμία σχέση με την ταινία τού 1985!

- The Road of the Eagles (35 σ., Lord of Samarcand and Other Adventure Tales of the Old Orient, 2005): Κοζάκοι, αλγερινοί πειρατές, αιχμάλωτος Τούρκος σουλτάνος, και εκδίκηση. Τι άλλο να πει κανείς…

Εν κατακλείδι, το Sword Woman and Other Historical Adventures είναι μία ευχάριστη συλλογή περιπετειών σε μεσαιωνικό πλαίσιο, αν κι όχι από τις καλύτερες του Howard. Μείνετε συντονισμένοι για περισσότερα άρθρα μου για τον Howard και διαβάστε τα ήδη υπάρχοντα για τα βιβλία Almuric (https://www.koiladatisgnosis.gr/logot...) και Κόναν: Η Βασίλισσα της Μαύρης Ακτής & Άλλα Διηγήματα (https://www.koiladatisgnosis.gr/logot...), καθώς για όλες τις ιστορίες με τον Bran Mak Morn (https://www.koiladatisgnosis.gr/logot...) και με τον Solomon Kane (https://www.koiladatisgnosis.gr/logot...). English Historical adventures from mostly Crusader times in the Middle East, with some Western Europe thrown in. Real figures such as Tamerlane, Saladin, Genghis Khan, and Baibars are present along with such historical events as the Siege of Vienna and the Siege of Constantinople and the Sack of Jerusalem. Practically all feature some hard-bitten European exile fighting with or against Arab/Turkish/Mongol armies.

The stories are formulaic, virtually every one starting either with a battle or in a tavern. For some reason a Crusader knight is separated from his people and ends up throwing in with or running from some great Muslim leader. As always there is a wealth of bloodshed and beheadings and swords cleaving skulls right down to the teeth.

Very entertaining stuff, and included are the few tales REH wrote featuring strong women, those being Dark Agnes and Red Sonya. Black Turlough and Cormac Fitzgerald also have stories. Most were printed during the short four year reign of Oriental Stories, sister magazine to Weird Tales, later known as Magic Carpet Magazine. REH wasn't above making minor changes to stories that didn't sell to Oriental and sending them to Weird Tales. Change a Crusader to a Cimmerian and move Egypt to Kush and you've got a money making Conan yarn. A man's gotta eat. English It's safe to say this collection contains some of Howard's best work. While the quality isn't entirely even, the better stories more than make up for the rest.

I'd like to mention Gates of Empire in particular, which is an unusual story from Howard's pen in that it features a main character that's less brawny barbarian and more bumbling rogue and reads more like something Jack Vance could've written. Other stories, such as the ones featuring Cormac FitzGeoffrey, show clear antecedents for the Conan the Barbarian stories and are interesting for that reason alone.

I also like to point out how impressive it is for a man who barely left Texas and had limited access to source material to portray medieval European, Middle Eastern and Central Asian settings this vividly. There is the odd inaccuracy and several instances of orientalist stereotyping, but when the stories come together well as a whole it's easily forgiven. English This is a collection of 18 of Howard's short stories/novellas, most of which were published in the early 1930's although several of them not until after his untimely death. Unlike most of his better known works such as Conan, Kull, Solomon Kane, etc., these stories are all historically based adventure stories. Lots of swashbuckling adventure here but no magic or supernatural elements. They were largely written towards the end of Howard's career and so we are treated to more refined writing than we tend to see with his earlier stories.

This volume includes several unpublished fragments and synopsis for other stories Howard had abandoned for one reason or another.

There is also a nice afterward written by Howard Andrew Jones that really puts these stories in context. Apparently, the market for this type of historical fiction was slim at that time; if that were not so we would probably have many more of them as it seems Howard really enjoyed writing them.

Several great heroes are introduced in these stories, among them Cormac FitzGeoffrey, Cahal and Haroun, Sir Miles, Giles the Rogue, and the titular sword woman, Dark Agnes. One story here also marks the first appearance ever of Red Sonya. Technically Red Sonja was a creation of comics writer Roy Thomas, adapting this medieval-era character of REH’s named “Red Sonya,” whose story appears in the story Lord Of Samarcand. She is written in a realistic historical context, not at all the chain-mail bikini heroine of the comic books that she would soon become. Indeed, one can't help but wonder if Howard had lived a normal lifespan, just how many of these characters would have become as successful and iconic as Conan.

A must-read for Robert E. Howard fans and highly recommended for pulp-era historical fiction enthusiasts as well. English