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Bran Mak Morn: The Last King by Robert E. Howard
Review by Edward Carmien
Del Rey Paperback  ISBN/ITEM#: 0345461541
Date: 31 May, 2005 List Price $15.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

This Del Rey edition hightlights Robert E. Howard?s classic Bran Mak Morn character. It is not a novel, nor a collection of stories - rather, Del Rey has gathered together both short fiction and poetry, as well as fragments of work and in one case a previously unpublished short story. Sample manuscript pages are reproduced, and each item is introduced with explanatory text. A short introduction by Rusty Burke kicks things off.

Fascination with all things Howard has continued through the decades. Even today, Del Rey continues to republish Conan novels, and Wildside Press is releasing a significant series of works by Howard as well. A Howard biography, written by Novalyne Price Ellis, was made into a film (The Whole Wide World), and L. Sprague De Camp and several others have written about Howard?s life as well.

Bran Mak Morn is Howard?s Pict King, a pureblooded anachronism in a mongrel society. What better way to revel in this politically incorrect character than by his own words, spoken in the face of overwhelming odds in a dark cave?

    ?Aye,? he ground, ?I am a Pict, son of those warriors who drove your ancestors before them like chaff before the storm! My people flooded the land with your blood, and heaped high your skulls for a sacrifice to the Moon-woman! You who fled of old before my race, dare ye now snarl at your master? Roll on me like a flood, now, if ye dare! Before your viper fangs drink my life, I will reap your multitudes like ripened barley, of your severed heads will I build a tower and of your mangled corpses will I rear up a wall! Dogs of the dark, vermin of Hell, worms of the earth, rush in and try my steel! When Death finds me in this dark cavern, your living will howl for the scores of your dead and your Black Stone will be lost to you forever?.?

While Howard?s views about race were not atypical for his time they stand out today as anachronistic and should be handled with care. Reading his work with a historical perspective aside, even today there is something compelling about much of his writing. It is impossible to deny that the blazing prose cited here is why Howard was able to make a living writing in multiple genres, why Howard was friendly with the Dean of Horror of the age, H.P. Lovecraft, why (to stretch a bit) today?s Governor of the State of California is also, in the timeless present of the cinema, Conan the Barbarian, Howard?s best-known literary invention.

Bran Mak Morn: The Last King contains some great moments, but do not read this book merely for those moments. Del Rey does the field a great service by bringing this text to print. There is adventure here, to be certain - the excerpt above is from ?Worms of the Earth,? and there are several equally interesting stories in the book. Wish to see handwritten pages in which Bran Mak Morn appears for the first time? They are reproduced here, from a journal written when Howard was 16 or 17 years old. The book is full of such fascinating tidbits.

Gary Gianni?s illustrations add just the right flavor to the fiction and are reminiscent of some of the art this reviewer recalls seeing in Edgar Rice Burroughs? John Carter of Mars books.

For those who follow Conan, for those interested in that most fertile of literary periods, the pulp era, for any with a yen to learn more about what has come before, especially in the field of sword and sorcery fantasy, Bran Mak Morn: The Last King is a great choice for summer reading.

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