John Maddox Roberts is probably my favorite of the Conan pastiche authors, but Conan the Rogue isn’t my favorite of his Conan books. It is a fun book, and the concept of Conan as the greatest rogue of all in a city of rogues is a good one, but it gets bogged down at times in the execution and can feel a little too generic outside of the baroque, film noir-esque plot machinations.
The book opens with Conan having just squandered the last of his loot from his last mercenary gig. Luckily, an effeminate man named Piris hires him to recover stolen property. The job will take him to Sicas, a small city by a silver mine in Aquilonia, and everyone assures Conan he will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. It is Conan’s kind of place.
He arrives in Sicas to find a city torn between multiple warring gangs. The royal governor and the man holding the lease on the silver mine steal every copper they can. The miners are being oppressed. A shady cult is using the sons and daughters of the city’s wealthy to extort them. And multiple other parties are seeking the same scorpion goddess statuette that Conan has been hired to recover.
Conan immediately sets to work stirring the pot to his own advantage, taking jobs and money from a dizzying array of sources within a few days of arriving. There are a lot of facets, lot of interested parties, and Conan is playing one side against the other, in bed with everybody. Da Fino would dig his work. The scorpion goddess statuette has a real Ark of the Covenant, Maltese Falcon sort of vibe.
The film noir inspiration is obvious, I think. Conan the Rogue has that kind of baroque, overly complicated plot in spades. Film has the disadvantage of a limited runtime, making it tough to give complex plots coherence. A novel presents a different challenge. Conan winds up setting up some many different plot threads that the book threatens to bog down in the middle, with individual threads left untouched for long stretches, risking the reader either losing interest or forgetting the necessary particulars.
My other complaint is that the individual elements pulled into the story can feel generic, especially the one wizard character who appears (pastiches have a bad habit of neglecting the REH/sword and sorcery approach to magic in favor of the more generic, boring approach common to 80s/90s fantasy).
Conan has no special ladies here but he does have several lady friends. I have mixed feelings on the women in the story and how Conan interacts with them.
Conan isn’t double-crossing anyone sympathetic, so it is pleasing to see them get their comeuppance. The reader can approach the whole thing with the joy that Conan does. It is a fun ride, especially when things heat up at the end.
3.5 of 5 Stars.
Read my reviews of John Maddox Roberts’ other Conan pastiches.