Story Review: The Tower of the Elephant by Robert E. Howard

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This is the second of the Robert E. Howard “Conan the Barbarian” stories I’ve covered, having reviewed The People of the Black Circle some time ago. I should be reviewing more in the future, as I plan to do at least 5 in total by the end of the year.

The story begins with a group of ruffians sitting in a candle-lit room. A Cimmerian comes in and discusses with a thief the Tower of the Elephant, a grand tower where a sorcerer named Yara keeps a treasure. They say Yara once turned a man into a small spider and stomped on him. 

A fight ensues, and the candle is knocked over. As the fire is relit, the crowd finds the Cimmerian gone and the thief dead.

Thus we’re introduced to Conan the Barbarian. He makes up his mind to enter the tower and retrieve the treasure within, called the Heart of the Elephant. This story is spectacular. I was glued to it after Conan made his way to the tower. From there, the different traps and perils were fascinating, and the treasure inside is interesting and different.

The one downside to this story is the lack of secondary characters. It’s short, so it could be that Howard didn’t have enough space to add many other characters, but much of the story is Conan coming across other people, monsters, or mysteries. I felt that People of the Black Circle benefited from Yasmina as a character.

If I had to choose which story I preferred, “The Tower of the Elephant” or “The People of the Black Circle”, I would have to choose the latter. This story is fantastic, but People of the Black Circle had many twists, characters, and interesting story progressions that this one was missing.

Still, I would recommend any fan of fantasy read this story. It’s short and easily worth your time.


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You might want to read the previous Robert E. Howard review of The People of the Black Circle.

You may also like some of my other reviews:

Book Review: The Gray Prince by Jack Vance

Book Review: The Shadow of the Torturer by Gene Wolfe

Book Review: Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

Book Review: A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs

You may also like some of my other work:

Writing with Inspiration

How to Tell if Your Writing is Improving

Poetry: “Rusted Theme Park from My Childhood”

Make sure to follow me on Twitter and Instagram!

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Book Review: The Skylark of Space by E. E. “Doc” Smith

A newer cover of the title, though a more dynamic and interesting one.

E. E. “Doc” Smith is a mixed bag for me. I really disliked Triplanetary, despite many of my peers suggesting it. I think of the Lensman series, First Lensman might be my next attempt into that space. However, the Skylark series was Smith’s other huge series.

And it is very approachable.

The Skylark of Space, the first book in this series, is about two scientists whose brilliance is tested when one of them, the heroic Richard Seaton, discovers a way to transform copper into energy. It’s fantastical, but the amount of energy provided is to a degree that allows space travel and augmented weaponry. Of course, the evil Marc DuQuesne can’t allow Richard to have it.

The tagline for the book reads, “it started in earth, it ended in space”. This is a good tease for what is within. The spaceship Seaton designs, the titular Skylark, is able to travel incredible speeds pushing relativity to points dreamed impossible. Though the battle between Seaton and DuQuesne escalates to a scale beyond simple battles over property rights. It soon becomes cosmic. The story leaps from the Earth to a black hole (which they call a “dead star”) and then to several alien worlds. Each alien world is unique and interesting, though the last society they interact with is by far the most interested. It also seems to have some similarities to Edgar Rice Burrough’s Barsoom society.

It comes off as an elementary school book report when you start talking about the two main characters, protagonist and antagonist, as if there were some opposing morality in their motivations. In this case, that doesn’t really apply. Both Richard Seaton and Marc DuQuesne have moralities that justify themselves by their ends. “The ends justify the means”, for lack of a better phrase. However, DuQuesne steps past a line of criminality that Seaton never does, going into both thievery and murder. Seaton only goes as far as deceiving the US Government about what he’s discovered and some minor violence to protect it.

There’s never a doubt in the story about which character is the hero and which is the villain. There’s something refreshing about that kind of writing, given the “shades of gray” characterization of modern stories. Your heroes can be human without also being evil, as Smith shows us. Seaton isn’t completely perfect, either. He’s the manly scientist character that was popular back then, but so is DuQuesne. They almost seem cut from the same cloth. At one point, DuQuesne is given honors similar to the honors bestowed upon the other four passengers of the Skylark, though he is still considered a “captive”.

If I had one complaint it was the pacing. In one chapter you’ll be reading about how the crew of one ship gets stuck next to a “dead star”, but then the next chapter has that immediately resolved with the other ship finding them and rescuing them. It’s paced quickly, which can be a hard sell at times. More often than not, though, it feels like a good pace for the story.

I recommend this book for fans of space opera. It won’t disappoint, though it does feel dated at points. That just added to its charm for me, though.


You may like some of my other reviews:

Book Review: The High Crusade by Poul Anderson

Book Review: The Ship of Ishtar by A. Merritt

Book Review: The Dragon Masters by Jack Vance

You may also like some of my other work:

Writing with Inspiration

How to Tell if Your Writing is Improving

Poetry: “Rusted Theme Park from My Childhood”

Make sure to follow me on Twitter and Instagram!

Story Review: The People of the Black Circle by Robert E. Howard

Covering a Conan story is a nice addition to my continuing search of early speculative fiction. I’ve previously covered The King of Elfland’s Daughter and The Ship of Ishtar. If you like older stories, check those reviews out.

Robert E. Howard is an author I have mixed feelings for. On the one hand, I look up to how great he is as an author, but on the other, I really feel he’s raised up on a pedestal beyond what he deserves.

The People of the Black Circle was the second real Conan story I read. I wasn’t a huge fan of Howard before, but I liked him well enough. Honestly this story made me reevaluate my opinion of him.

The story is epic. The Emperor of Vendhya is killed and the Devi Yasmina comes to power. She swears to kill the assassins, who used magic to kill her brother. Amidst all of this, Conan has come to negotiate for the release of his seven warriors from a jail in Vendhya. Conan takes Yasmina as a hostage and flees Vendhya, unknowingly jumping into a battle of kings and wizards. With this comes its own dangers, as a mystical man in a camel vest pursues Conan and Yasmina.

I can’t recommend this story enough. The progression is great, Conan as a character is strong and interesting, and Yasmina is a beautiful, proud woman. Not to mention, the action is fantastic. There’s numerous fights in canyons and tricky interpretations of mystical words. It’s all around great.


You may like some of my other reviews:

Book Review: The High Crusade by Poul Anderson

Book Review: The Ship of Ishtar by A. Merritt

Book Review: The Dragon Masters by Jack Vance

You may also like some of my other work:

Writing with Inspiration

How to Tell if Your Writing is Improving

Poetry: “Rusted Theme Park from My Childhood”

Make sure to follow me on Twitter and Instagram!

Story Review: Black Amazon of Mars by Leigh Brackett

I can’t use the cover used in Planet Stories. However, this is the cover used for the story collection in Fantasy Masterworks.

I get this story recommended to me often. In truth, the circles I run in love older stories, and they seem to always extol Black Amazon of Mars as one of the better tales from the past.

Leigh Brackett was once called the “Queen of Space Opera”, and I have to admit that this story lives up to the hype.

Black Amazon of Mars has vivid storytelling, a fast pace, interesting action and characters, and twists and turns I didn’t see coming.

The story follows Eric John Stark, a recurring character in Brackett’s work. First published in 1951, it was originally in PLanet Stories, but subsequent publications used either the changed version or the original (depending). I read the original.

In this story, Eric is with his friend Camar, who is dying. Camar held in his possession a lens of some type that has some powerful abilities. As Camar dies, he Eric volunteers to take the lens back to his Martian people. However, a band of marauders, lead by the mysterious Lord Ciaran, are planning an attack on the city Camar comes from.

Stark is a good character, though he felt pretty generic. His “wandering rogue” aesthetic held pretty standard for a pulp story, but the real shining stars were the other characters. Lord Ciaran, in particular, was fascinating. There are a lot of martians in the city that interested me, but mostly by that part of the story, Ciaran’s uniqueness eclipsed the other characters.

All in all, I’d recommend this for anyone who likes science fiction or fantasy. It’s only about 70 pages, so I think it’s worth it. It’s fantastic.


You may like some of my other reviews:

Book Review: The High Crusade by Poul Anderson

Book Review: The Ship of Ishtar by A. Merritt

Book Review: The Dragon Masters by Jack Vance

You may also like some of my other work:

Writing with Inspiration

How to Tell if Your Writing is Improving

Poetry: “Rusted Theme Park from My Childhood”

Make sure to follow me on Twitter and Instagram!

Book Review: Three Hearts and Three Lions by Poul Anderson

I’ve reviewed several Poul Anderson books, including The Broken Sword and The High Crusade. Honestly, he’s quickly becoming my favorite author, though I suspect Jack Vance still holds that title in my heart.

Three Hearts and Three Lions follows Holger, an Allied fighter in World War 2, who awakens to find himself transported to a medieval fairy world of magic and witches. Finding himself with a horse and equipment in his size, as well as a shield bearing the titular “Three Hearts and Three Lions” design, he decides to go on a journey. He wants to find a way back, and on the way comes across a Dwarf named Hugi and a swan woman named Alianora.

The story is somewhat episodic. It would honestly make a decent television show, if not for the lackluster ending. Holger is a witty, 20th century personality in a medieval fantasy setting. He makes for a fantastic fish-out-of-water character.

There are several creative ideas. I love how Holger defeats a dragon, for example, or his riddles against a giant. Basically, if you like medieval fantasy with a touch of 20th century flair, this book is right up your alley.


If you liked this review you might like some of my others:

Book Review: The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien

Book Review: The Shadow of the Torturer by Gene Wolfe

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Book Review: There Will Be Dragons by John Ringo

I’ve previously reviewed several of John Ringo’s books, including The Troy Rising series and Gust Front, part of the Legacy of the Aldenata series (also known as the Posleen War series).

This book is about war. Ringo’s writing is straightforward, and a lot of what he delves into is the logic inherent in the story. In the Posleen War series he goes into depth about how the aliens work, how to fight them, and what a war on the Earth would look like, all within the logic of the series. He does the same here.

He also does a good job in pacing. Early on I was a little worried that it was lagging too much, but right around the 100-page mark the story shifted dramatically and my interest was rekindled. Ringo setup a LOT in the early chapters, and the pay offs were worth it. If I have one complaint it’s that I couldn’t really follow a protagonist. Ringo sort of drifted between several POV characters, but ultimately seemed to “zoom in” on Edmund Talbot and Herzer Herrick.

From there, however, the book takes a turn. Instead of being a fantasy book set in the far future, it becomes military fantasy. I’m not complaining, I like that genre, but it wasn’t apparent from the beginning.

Also, if you don’t like discussion of sexual assault this book may not be for you. There’s a prominent attack, which hangs over the head of most of the characters the rest of the book.

Ultimately, I like the book a lot. After burning through the first two hundred pages, I got hooked. If you like military fantasy it’s for you.


You may like some of my other reviews:

Book Review: The High Crusade by Poul Anderson

Book Review: The Ship of Ishtar by A. Merritt

Book Review: The Dragon Masters by Jack Vance

You may also like some of my other work:

Writing with Inspiration

How to Tell if Your Writing is Improving

Poetry: “Rusted Theme Park from My Childhood”

Make sure to follow me on Twitter and Instagram!

What Books Would You Recommend for Pre-Teens?

I’ve seen this question a lot. I think the age range is right there where a young person can start to read solid genre fiction outside of the “kiddie” hold of children’s fiction. There are some children’s books that work for this, obviously, but in general the genre can be a bit too juvenile for a middle-school aged young person.

That isn’t to mock children’s books whatsoever. I have great respect for authors of all age groups, but in this particular age range I’ve found that young people don’t respond well to books with younger themes.

As far as speculative fiction goes, there’s a number of books that could be recommended comfortably to younger readers in order to stoke their imagination and encourage them to read more. So here’s a list I composed of books I’d recommend to middle-school aged young people. I’ll include my recommendation, the genre, and the reason for my recommendation.


Interstellar Pig by William Sleator. Science fiction. My first exposure to science fiction, as I previously mentioned. It’s the story of a young man who goes on vacation when he meets strange kids who share a board game with him. In the game, you have to keep a “Piggy”on your planet in order to prevent the world from being destroyed. The board game seems to simulate reality, and I think most young readers would love this one. It’s fun, imaginative, and has a few twists and turns to it to keep it interesting.

Have Space Suit—Will Travel by Robert Heinlein. Science fiction. One of the more adventurous stories by Heinlein and one of his “juveniles”, the stories he intended for young readers. I previously reviewed Heinlein’s Space Cadet, another of his juveniles, though I wouldn’t put it on this list. A young man named Kip is kidnapped by an alien. From there, the story takes off to become a bizarre exploration of humanity. It’s worth a read and young readers should love it.

House of Stairs by William Sleator. Science fiction. If you can’t tell by now I love Sleator. He wrote mainly for this age range, which is why his work continues to show up on this list. House of Stairs follows a group of kids who find themselves in a strange room with stairs. It’s seemingly calculated to test them in various ways, and there’s more to it then it seems.

The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien. Fantasy. Probably Tolkien’s most approachable book. It’s quirky in weird ways and definately dated, but it’s the forefather of a lot of fantasy stories. It’s worth picking up.

Singularity by William Sleator. Science fiction. A story about twin brothers who discover a small singularity in their uncle’s shed. There’s water and food, and apparently someone is able to stay in the shed while time slows outside the shed. This is widely considered Sleator’s best work.

The Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling. Fantasy. This should be obvious enough. Rowling is a great writer, and as the characters age up so do the subjects they deal with. It’s imaginative and younger readers will love it.

Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. Fantasy. This one is probably most suited for kids, but the witty wordplay is probably appreciated more by preteens. Alice follows a rabbit and ends up in a strange world. It’s mostly nonsense literature, but I think it’s probably still fantasy.

The Giver by Lois Lowry. Science fiction. I read this book at the appropriate age. I loved it. It’s a dystopian novel about a future society that engineers their citizens to conform to set standards. It’s a great way to introduce philosophy to young people.

Interview With the Vampire by Anne Rice. Horror. Obviously this one contains blood and some disturbing elements. It’s a great vampire story. I recall my sister loving it when she was a young teen, and I suspect many other young readers will find Rice’s story compelling. If you want to wait to suggest it until high school, that would make sense in this case.

Conan the Conqueror by Robert E. Howard. Heroic fantasy. It will contain violence, but if you think your young person can handle it, this book is solid. It follows an older King Conan who leaves and journeys back to retake his kingdom.

Citizen of the Galaxy by Robert Heinlein. Science fiction. Another of Heinlein’s juveniles. A slave boy is bought by a beggar and given a job. It’s based in a space-faring society and clearly one of Heinlein’s best juveniles.

Jirel of Joiry by C. L Moore. Sword and sorcery. There is some violence in these stories. These stories are sometimes collected as “Black God’s Kiss”, the name of the most popular of the stories in the collection. Jirel is a french swordswoman who rules over a medieval state. She’s arrogant, brash, angry, and by far one of the most interesting characters on this list. Young readers should find her stories interesting, but I’m tempted to say that teenagers would appreciate the work more.

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman. Fantasy. I wrote a review of this one. I didn’t think it particularly showcased Gaiman’s skill, but it’s still some great work. If you can find videos of Gaiman reading it to an audience, I’d recommend looking those up. It’s appropriate for younger readers who’d like to know about this mythology. It does contain some violence, of course, but an early teen should be able to handle that.

Dracula by Bram Stoker. Horror. I hesitate to list this one since it’s a bit unwieldy for modern readers. However, I enjoyed it when I was young and I’m sure young people today would like it as well. It’s gloomy, dark, and mysterious. If you’ve never read it, the book is unique in how it tells its story.


Maybe you’ll like some of my posts on writing:

Where the First Draft Ends and Second Draft Begins

Going from Outline to Manuscript

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Or maybe a couple of my reviews:

Book Review: The Shadow of the Torturer by Gene Wolfe

Book Review: Jack of Shadows by Roger Zelazny

Book Review: Trading in Danger by Elizabeth Moon

Make sure to follow me on Twitter and Instagram!

Book Review: Stormbringer by Michael Moorcock

I’ve read several stories from Michael Moorcock. In fact, I’ve read several of his Elric stories, but never grabbed a vintage paperback version of any one of them. So, when I saw a copy of Stormbringer, I had to have it and read it.

Not the version I own, but similar to it.

Stormbringer is the last book in terms of the chronology of the Elric series. I knew, going into it, that I was missing some pieces of the story. This book was actually four short stories bonded into a single narrative.

Each of the four arcs felt pretty disconnected, but had several stand out moments. There was the resurrection of a dead god, the cruel death of a character in an inevitable way, and the confrontation between the Lords of Chaos and Lords of Order.

Without spoiling the story, I will say that the book, as a whole, was compelling and well-written. In particular (and I shared this on Instagram) Moorcock’s descriptions are amazing. His writing style is epic, even if the tone is dark and somber. If you like epic fantasy AND dark fantasy, this is right up your alley.

The story also delves into Moorcock’s Multiverse. I didn’t know that the Multiverse was actually a part of the Moorcock mythos, but after reading this book I dug deeper into it to find some fascinating tidbits about it. But I digress.

As far as the ending goes, I felt it was far too abrupt. It wasn’t satisfying for me, and I feel like it was a rare misstep. Ultimately, like the rest of the Elric series, Stormbringer was dark and unhappy.


You may like some of my other reviews:

Book Review: The High Crusade by Poul Anderson

Book Review: The Ship of Ishtar by A. Merritt

Book Review: The Dragon Masters by Jack Vance

You may also like some of my other work:

Writing with Inspiration

How to Tell if Your Writing is Improving

Poetry: “Rusted Theme Park from My Childhood”

Make sure to follow me on Twitter and Instagram!

Book Review: The Children of Hurin by J. R. R. Tolkien

1009005228NOTE: Like a lot of Tolkien’s in-universe names, “Hurin” is spelled with an accent, which I do not include. This is simply because it’s hard to type every single time I have a letter that requires it. As such, I will not include those in this review.

Previously I reviewed The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien, but the book Children of Hurin is more in line with The Silmarillion (considering the story was straight up mentioned in that book).  Likewise, it is one of three newly released volumes edited by Christopher Tolkien based on works by his father. Like “Beren and Luthien” and “The Fall of Gondolin” it follows events long before The Hobbit.

I’m not really sure how to summarize the entire book in one review. To be honest, there was a lot to it that I simply don’t remember after reading it. I do recall, however, that it reads like a Viking legend or Greek tragedy.

Essentially, the story follows the children of Hurin, who was taken prisoner by Morgoth. While imprisoned, great tragedies befall his family involving a daughter born and a son who leads his people in battle. His son, Turin, goes by a pseudonym several times in the story, and as such there’s a Greek tragedy element resulting from a dragon’s curse.

The book reads like a blend of The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion. If you liked both of those, you will like this book. If you liked Lord of the Rings but didn’t like The Silmarillion, then you’ll probably think it’s boring.

I, however, loved this book. I actually liked it more that The Silmarillion when I read it. Remember that this is a tragedy, so if that isn’t something you’d like, then avoid this. Beren and Luthien might fit you better.



You might like some of my other reviews:

Book Review: The King of Elfland’s Daughter by Lord Dunsany

Book Review: Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

Book Review: The Shadow of the Torturer by Gene Wolfe

Book Review: The King of Elfland’s Daughter by Lord Dunsany

51Fp8XBGpBLTo continue my read through of older (and sometimes overlooked) works in the history of fantasy and science fiction literature, I have arrived in 1924 for Lord Dunsany’s The King of Elfland’s Daughter.

Previously I’ve read A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs (1912) and The Ship of Ishtar by A. Merritt (1924). I would recommend both for those interested in older literature of the spectacular. Also The Broken Sword by Poul Anderson was published in 1954, and fits as an influential book in its own right, if you’re interested in that.

The book was fantastic. I wouldn’t say it’s perfect, though, no book is. There was a bit of a lag in the middle to end of the book, roughly the 50% to 75% mark. In addition, the story seems to have no real action by the main characters after the halfway point, but that’s by design. As far as how readable it is, I leave that up to the individual reader. I had no problem approaching the book, but will readily admit some difficulty after the middle section.

The story of the book was concerned with two kingdoms: the kingdom of men named Erl and the kingdom of fairies named Elfland. The king of Erl, in the beginning is asked by his people to give them a king who has magic. The king, knowing that what they were asking would lead to trouble, told his only son to venture to Elfland and wed the legendary princess there. That way, there would be magic in the royal bloodline.

The first quarter of the story was concerned with the prince of Erl finding his bride, returning with her, and living with her in Erl. Then, she decides to return to Elfland, and the rest of the book is concerned with the time difference between the two realms and how time doesn’t move for her and the fairies while the men search for a way to get to her.

The characters were the second weakest part of the book, the first being the plot. The titular character, Lirazel, was fascinating as a concept. But as a character she’s shallow. Lirazel was torn between loving Alveric and Erl, and longing to return to Elfland and her father.

Alveric himself was an unsympathetic character who went from heroic in the first quarter to utterly useless in the latter parts of the book.

Their child, Orion, was the most interesting character, in my opinion. He loved his hounds, wanted to meet his mother, but doesn’t want to leave the world he knows behind. It’s complicated and interesting. Ultimately, it culminates in a hunt he took to kill a unicorn. This proved to the people of Erl he was skilled, but also that he had some magic in him after all. Honestly, I had no interest in the unicorn hunt, but it was beautifully told.

The best part of the book was Dunsany’s writing. His descriptions of Elfland as bordering on the twilight of the sky was something magical taken directly from fairytales. The King of Elfland, himself, was never really seen as much as felt. He’s a presence in the story, whose power and authority echo throughout the tale. It’s fascinating and interesting and beautiful. The runes he used in the story had earth-shattering effects, able to change the border of his land to recede, to block people from entering.

It’s an amazing story. I would recommend it for anyone who loves older fiction and fantasy books.

Lord Dunsany writes like a man who has the muses on his shoulder, feeding him the language of imagination and wonder themselves.


You might like some of my other work:

What is Science Fiction?

Book Review: Jack of Shadows by Roger Zelazny

Writing with Inspiration