Book Review: The Phoenix on the Sword by Robert E. Howard

I first got introduced to Conan the Cimmerian via the cheesy 90s cartoon and later the awesome Arnie movie, and it’s disappointing sequel. I’ve read a few of the comics and even watched the remake and enjoyed that.

I still hold out hope for the King Conan movie

I’ve read some of the original stories before but so long ago I don’t remember much other than enjoying them. But having picked up a cheap compilation on my Kindle I decided to have another look and where better to start than the first outing of the sword wielding barbarian.


I was surprised that we find the Cimmerian as a king right at the start, having seized power of Aquilonia. But as a foreigner he is regarded with suspicion and envy by some of his subjects who praise the king he removed. Conan finds himself wearying of ruling and the dull responsibilities, missing the heat of battle and adventuring.

But there is a plot afoot to assassinate him and an ancient evil awakens as a sorcerer seeks to regain his powers. Conan has dreams of the kingdom’s long dead hero (a Merlin type figure) advising him of the approaching danger and offering aid.

Can Conan thwart those who would kill him and keep his throne? And can even his skill as a warrior stop the evil of magic?

I loved this story, it’s kinda old fashioned in places but it works because Howard has skill in quickly crafting characters that feel real and Conan is already a strong character after one outing. But the writer’s real talent is in his action sequences which are written with flair and almost gleeful bloodlust. Sure, it pales next to George R. R. Martin but this is from the thirties and the red stuff is spilt in vast amounts and in great detail.

It’s a quick read that introduces Conan and hints at his past. I look forward to reading the rest of the collection over the coming months.

Verdict: A fun quick read with Howard showing his talents for adventure and quick characterisation. Very enjoyable. 6/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

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