Conan’s last adventure ends with strong hints of what could happen next.
FANTASY BOOK REVIEW ROBERT E HOWARD CONAN THE HOUR OF THE DRAGON 1935
The last Conan story in the series if taken chronologically, and the only novel length Conan story (also published as Conan The Conqueror).
Much of the plot is drawn directly from the later Conan short stories, and in particular, The Scarlet Citadel, so readers may gain a sense of déjà vu in reading this one.
There is much originality here too, and a genuine sense of Conan accepting the advances of middle age too, setting the scene for later stories that was sadly never to come due to Howard’s suicide shortly after publication.
As in The Silver Citadel, a large invasion force from neighbouring kingdoms, which use a powerful sorcerer to help them beat the mighty Barbarian, threatens Conan’s kingship of Aquilonia. Conan is given a paralysing spell that keeps him confined to his tent as his forces, led by a lookalike, are annihilated. A falling cliff, again a result of evil sorcery, crushes the Aquilonian army.
Conan is taken alive as a trophy by the victors, who face fierce resistance among the conquered people, especially as rumours that Conan lives, spread.
A slave girl, and vows to rescue her once he is King again, but he knows he must find a way to beat the sorcerer rescue Conan. Allies, in the form of an ageing witch woman, with a pet wolf and priests from a peaceful sect, tell Conan that the sorcerer has his heart kept in a box and that to kill the heart will kill the wizard.
Members of another cult have stolen the heart and Conan goes on a quest to recapture it as the resistance movement gathers strength.
There are no dragons in the story, though the giant snake reappears. The title refers to the dating of events, and there is a box sealed with a poisoned dragon-tooth clasp to contend with too.
Conan’s role in the crushing of the conquering forces is kept low-key as his people do the job for him. The wizards and witches allied to Conan help to take down the evil sorcerer.
The real fascination is the closing, now cruel teaser lines in which Conan rescues the slave girl who helped him early on in the novel, and indicates a wish to make her his bride. His people worrying that Conan having no heir dominate the story will die and leave him or her kingless. In growing older and giving more responsibility to his people Conan’s maturity means any later stories would have been truly fascinating. Sadly, it was not to be and the closing lines underline Howard’s own tragic end more effectively than any obituary ever could.