Conan: Blood of the Serpent by S. M. Stirling – A Book Review



Mercenary, thief, soldier, usurper…


As sword for hire for a mercenary troop, Conan finds himself in Sukhmet, a filthy backwater town south of the River Styx considered “the arse-end of Stygia.” Serving in the company known as Zarallo’s Free Companions, he fights alongside soldiers of fortune from Zingara, Koth, Shem, and other landsa hard-handed band of killers loyal to anyone who pays them well.

In a Sukhmet tavern he encounters one soldier in particularValeria of the Red Brotherhood, a veteran of freebooters with whom Conan also sailed, launching raids out of the Barachan Isles on the Western Sea. Valeria’s reputation is that of a deadly swordswoman, a notoriety she quickly proves to be accurate. When she runs afoul of an exiled Stygian noble, however, things take a deadly turn, embroiling them both in the schemes of a priest of the serpent god Set.

Author: S. M. Stirling

Publisher: Titan Books

Genre: Fantasy

Series: The All-New Chronicles of the World’s Greatest Barbarian Hero #1

Release Date: 06 December 2022

Pages: 432

My Chosen Format: Hardcover

My rating of ‘Blood of the Serpent’: 3 out of 5

Purchase: Amazon, Audible


I received this book in exchange for an honest review.

I’d never read a Conan story before, but was a big fan of the character. I’ve read a little since just to get a feel for the way the current incarnation of Conan is being written and it just doesn’t feel the same. It barely even feels similar. This is something that is very obvious considering when Blood of the Serpent ends, the publisher has kindly provided Red Nails so the reader may carry on.

I’m not sure if it’s an author problem or a deeper issue with the character in general, but he just seems to have zero, in some cases less than zero, chemistry with ANY other character. Especially his supposed love interests. There’s also a bizarre fascination with lengthy sentences to overexplain what’s going on or what’s being seen. Sometimes, Conan comes across as a Harvard educated scholar and it just feel a bit forced.

The battle scenes, which are the bread and butter of a barbarian story, are well-written and give the reader a vivid image of what’s occurring. My only downside is that there’s only so many instances of ‘Conan stumbles across another, more dangerous kind of animal and has to fight it’ that I can put up with before getting rather bored. I know it’s important to the story due to certain plot points, but that doesn’t give it any more flare or flavour. 

This book feeds into one of Conan’s more popular short stories (Red Nails) and, because of this, the author had a limited sandbox within which to ply his trade. That being said, it still felt a bit like a videogame storyline where there is a very straight forward ‘go from point A to point B’ questline. Said quest line was bulked out by a few ‘side quests’ that had the same copy and paste formula of ‘Conan meets random person & aids random person’. Nothing that happened in-between starting the main quest and ending the main quest, really felt like it mattered. I could be very wrong. They could be setting up things for later books or they could be resolving tasks referenced in some of the older stories that I haven’t read. But, for the here and now, it just didn’t feel as though any of the book mattered overmuch. I’d be interested to try one where the author had free-reign, rather than writing a long set-up to a shorter work.

All in all, it’s not a bad fantasy, if a bit straight forward and copy and paste. It has some good scenery throughout but I just don’t think this was for me. If you are a fan of Conan, it’s a must buy as it will most certainly be something you’d want to test against the stories of yesteryear to see if this new series is something you can sink your teeth into. My failing is that this is my first story, rather than a test of new against old.

I think for me, this was very much a case of I enjoyed the beginning and the end but could have done without the middle.

3 thoughts on “Conan: Blood of the Serpent by S. M. Stirling – A Book Review

  1. All those ‘issues’ you describe sound exactly how RE Howard originally wrote Conan, so I’m guessing Stirling must have studied.
    I really like Conan stories but for the most part they are 3star material and I can deal with that.

    Did you end up reading Red Nails?

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s