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”

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Book Review: The Broken Sword by Poul Anderson

anderson_broken_sword_carterI previously covered Poul Anderson with my book review of The Enemy Stars. It was okay, but with The Broken Sword, I feel like he really shined as an author.

The Broken Sword is a fantasy novel, but it’s set in real locations during the viking age of Northern Europe. The twist is that there are actual faeriekin, as they’re called, who are the legendary creatures of old. Interestingly, this means the gods of various locales exist as well, with Odin and Thor being mentioned prominently, as well as various Celtic deities. The Christian god is mentioned as well, in the context of being the “new god” that the old ones fear. It’s an interesting idea.

The story opens with an elf named Imric, who steals a child from a viking leader named Orm and replaces the child with a changeling he sired with a captured troll woman. To celebrate the child, one of the Aesir, the Norse gods, gifts a cursed sword to Imric. The changeling and the human child grow up separately, but look similar in appearance. The human child is named Skafloc, and he comes to understand the elfs’ ways, going so far as to make love to the elf women at times. The changeling is named Valgard, and he becomes a ruthless beserker.

Before I get into spoilers, I want to say that I absolutely loved this book. I think it was one of the best fantasy novels I’d ever read and by far the most interesting thing I’ve read from Poul Anderson yet. The ending didn’t awe me, but it was satisfying. I would say this is a hugely underrated classic of fantasy.

SPOILERS BELOW

One of the odd parts of the book is how Valgard kills basically his whole family, except his foster sister. She flees, and is smitten with Skafloc, who she doesn’t know is her brother. This whole relationship was a little off-putting, but I think that was the point. When their relationship is revealed by the ghost of Orm, it’s shocking and ruins any chance they had to be together.

As far as the ending goes, while I understand a “happy ending” was impossible, I still wished for it as I read. I knew it was coming, with Odin being seen previously multiple times, but it was still sad to see happen.


You might like some of my other reviews:

Book Review: The Fifth Season by N. K . Jemisin

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

Book Review: The Gray Prince by Jack Vance