Like the first of these Best Ofs, this is a many genre varied collection, ranging from sword and sorcery, boxing, horror to western humour. It also includes several poems. Rusty Burke says in his intro this is large his selection of stories that he thinks are the best. There are also several poems, some sketches and a lengthy article titled 'Barbarian at the Pantheon Gates' by Steve Tompkins, who argues thusly:
"That knocking you hear, polite but persistent, is the people who assembled Volumes I and II of The Best of Robert E. Howard, addressing themselves to the front door of the American literary pantheon. Let’s be upfront while we’re out front: not only do we put Howard’s finest work on we’ve even gone so far as to pick out a place of honor for that pedestal within the pantheon’s marmoreal recesses. These books are designed to be more than just a Petition for Admittance; our aim has been a show of force, an effort to rout derisive interdiction with a decisive intervention in a debate that’s been too non-evidentiary for too long."
Grim Lands : By This Axe I Rule! - Robert E. Howard
Grim Lands : The Mirrors of Tuzun Thune - Robert E. Howard
Grim Lands : The Tower of the Elephant - Robert E. Howard
Grim Lands : Wings in the Night - Robert E. Howard
Grim Lands : Lord of Samarcand - Robert E. Howard
Grim Lands : The Shadow of the Vulture - Robert E. Howard
Grim Lands : The Bull Dog Breed - Robert E. Howard
Grim Lands : The Man on the Ground - Robert E. Howard
Grim Lands : Old Garfield’s Heart - Robert E. Howard
Grim Lands : Vultures of Wahpeton - Robert E. Howard
Grim Lands : Gents on the Lynch - Robert E. Howard
Grim Lands : Pigeons from Hell - Robert E. Howard
Grim Lands : Wild Water - Robert E. Howard
Grim Lands : Son of the White Wolf - Robert E. Howard
Grim Lands : Black Vulmea’s Vengeance - Robert E. Howard
Grim Lands : Red Nails - Robert E. Howard
Kull is a little peeved that Brule and Ka-Nu are riding out, leaving him behind to govern, and even moreso when he discovers a law that does not permit him to allow one of his young nobles to marry the slave girl he likes.
A cadre of sympathisers to the former king is plotting to do Kull in with Brule and many Red Slayers away, having suborned his guard.
Their problem was that Kull was restless when they attacked, heard them coming and had time to done some armor. And this :
"And in that instant Kull leaped to the wall and tore therefrom an ancient battle-axe which had hung there for possibly a hundred years.
Back to the wall, he faced them for a moment; then leaped among them. No defensive fighter was Kull! He always carried the fight to the enemy."
The enemy could only get at him 4 or so to 1 in the room, but there were 20 of them. If not for the timely intervention of the young noble he talked to earlier, Kull would be Corpse Kull.
Grateful, he has a Judge Dredd moment, bigtime :
"Here stand the two who have saved my life. Hence forward they are free to marry, to do as they
"But the law!" screamed Tu.
"I am the law!" roared Kull, swinging up his axe; "By this axe I rule! This is my sceptre! I have struggled and sweated to be the puppet king you
wished me to be-to rule your way. Now I use mine own way. If you will not fight, you shall obey. Laws that are just shall stand, laws that have outlived their times I shall shatter as I shattered that one. I am king!"
This story shows Kull, warrior and statesmen at his finest, consoling a girl earlier, the grim warrior the next.
4.5 out of 5
Introspection and philosophy are not cures for what ails a bored warrior-King. Neither are wizardly mirrors or Lovecraftian elder races.
Thankfully, the stout, pragmatic Spear-Slayer is there to remind him.
4 out of 5
Conan is in thieving mode here. In a tavern, he is asking the assembled crowd of nogoodniks why no-one has stolen a famous jewel from this tower.
They tell him because it is guarded by some very nasty things.
He, of course, investigates, and meets a master thief attempting the same thing.
Humans, animals, a giant spider and a wizard are to be encountered, not to mention an alien.
3.5 out of 5
Solomon Kane is deep in cannibal country, when he comes across even worse. Flying man-beasts that are too many for him to fight, and he is overcome.
When he wakens, he realises he is alive, even though he should not be, and is told of the akaanas, or flying-men, and realizes they may be the source of the Mediterranean harpy legend.
Kane has an advantage against them the others do not, he has firearms, and the staff of N'Longa. He sets out to deal with this menace methodically.
3.5 out of 5
A young Scotsman watches a battle go awry, but later is happy with a home in the area, and the chance to do some claymore wielding Turk lopping, but it is a very dangerous business.
2.5 out of 5
Not much sorcery to be seen in this historical adventure, but it is the origin of the character that Roy Thomas and others adapted with such success for Marvel in comics form, so of interest to fans of Conan and Red Sonja as she currently stands, chainmail bikini wearing barbarbian Hyrkanian warrior.
It is also a sterling Robert E. Howard tale, as well as being the origin of the flame haired swordswoman.
Von Kalmbach is a knight who managed to injure the Turkish leader in battle in the past, when his other 31 comrades died. When it is learned he is still alive, an assassin is sent after him:
""Enough of excuses," interrupted Ibrahim. "Send Mikhal Oglu to
me. ... The man whose very name was a shuddering watchword of horror to all western Asia was soft-spoken and moved with the mincing ease of a cat..."
"...nor could Ibrahim guess that he was taking the first steps in a feud which should spread over years and far lands, swirling in dark tides to draw in thrones and kingdoms and red-haired
women more beautiful than the flames of hell..."
Von Kalmbach is drinking in a small town outside Vienna when he realises an invasion is coming, and rides quickly for the city, where a defense is being mustered.
Looking around, he is surprised: "Turning toward the abandoned gun, he saw a colorful, incongruous figure bending over the massive breech.
It was a woman, dressed as von Kalmbach had not seen even the
dandies of France dressed. She was tall, splendidly shaped, but lithe. From under a steel cap escaped rebellious tresses that rippled red gold in the sun over her compact shoulders. High boots of Cordovan leather came to her mid-thighs, which were cased in baggy breeches. She wore a shirt of fine Turkish mesh-mail tucked into her breeches. Her supple waist was confined by a flowing sash of green silk, into which were thrust a brace of pistols and a dagger, and from which depended a long Hungarian saber. Over all was carelessly thrown a scarlet cloak.
This surprizing figure was bending over the cannon, sighting it in a manner betokening more than a passing familiarity, at a group of Turks who were wheeling a carriage-gun just within range.
"Eh, Red Sonya!" shouted a man-at-arms, waving his pike. "Give 'em hell, my lass!""
Thomas and company certainly lifted her temperament, and physical presence, wholesale : "A terrific detonation drowned her words and a swirl of smoke blinded every one on the turret, as the terrific recoil of the overcharged cannon knocked the firer flat on her back. She sprang up like a spring rebounding and rushed to the embrasure, peering eagerly through the smoke, which clearing, showed the ruin of the gun crew. The huge ball, bigger than a man's head, had smashed full into the group clustered about the saker, and now they lay on the torn ground, their skulls blasted by the impact, or their bodies mangled by the flying iron splinters from their shattered gun. A cheer went up from
the towers, and the woman called Red Sonya yelled with a sincere joy and did the steps of a Cossack dance.
Gottfried approached, eying in open admiration the splendid swell
of her bosom beneath the pliant mail, the curves of her ample hips and rounded limbs. She stood as a man might stand, booted legs braced wide apart, thumbs hooked into her girdle, but she was all woman. She was laughing as she faced him, and he noted with fascination the dancing sparkling lights and changing colors of her eyes. She raked back her rebellious locks with a powder-stained hand and he wondered at the clear pinky whiteness of her firm flesh where it was unstained.
"Why did you wish for the Sultana Roxelana for a target, my girl?" he asked.
"Because she's my sister, the slut!" answered Sonya. "
Pretty soon, Gottfried is very happy she is there:
"It was Red Sonya who had come to his aid, and her onslaught was no less terrible than that of a she-panther. Her strokes followed each other too quickly for the eye to follow; her blade was a blur of white fire, and men went down like ripe grain before the reaper. With a deep roar Gottfried strode to her side, bloody and terrible, swinging his great blade. Forced irresistibly back, the Moslems wavered on the edge of the wall, then leaped for the ladders or fell screaming through empty space.
Oaths flowed in a steady stream from Sonya's red lips and she
laughed wildly as her saber sang home and blood spurted along the
edge. The last Turk on the battlement screamed and parried wildly as she pressed him; then dropping his scimitar, his clutching hands closed desperately on her dripping blade. With a groan he swayed on the edge, blood gushing from his horribly cut fingers.
"Hell to you, dog-soul!" she laughed. "The devil can stir your
broth for you!"
With a twist and a wrench she tore away her saber, severing the
wretch's fingers; with a moaning cry he pitched backward and fell
The somewhat bewildered knight still does not know what to make of her: ""By God, my girl," said he, extending a huge hand, "had you not come to my aid, I think I'd have supped in Hell this night. I thank--"
"Thank the devil!" retorted Sonya rudely, slapping his hand aside. "The Turks were on the wall. Don't think I risked my hide to save yours, dog-brother!"
And with a scornful flirt of her wide coattails, she swaggered off down the battlements, giving back promptly and profanely the rude sallies of the soldiers."
He enquires about this woman: "Eh, she's a devil, that one! She drinks the strongest head under the table and outswears a Spaniard. She's no man's light o' love. Cut--slash--death to you, dog-soul! There's her way."
"Red Sonya from Rogatino--that's all we know. Marches and fights
like a man--God knows why. Swears she's sister to Roxelana, the
Soldan's favorite. If the Tatars who grabbed Roxelana that night had got Sonya, by Saint Piotr! Suleyman would have had a handful! Let her alone, sir brother; she's a wildcat. Come and have a tankard of ale."
After an ill advised excursion against the enemy, Sonya pulls Gottfried to safety, and after telling him of the death of a leader, she displays no patience for sensitive men: Gottfried sat down on a piece of fallen wall, and because he was shaken and exhausted, and still mazed with drink and blood-lust, he sank his face in his huge hands and wept. Sonya kicked him disgustedly.
"Name o' Satan, man, don't sit and blubber like a spanked schoolgirl. You drunkards had to play the fool, but that can't be
mended. Come--let's go to the Walloon's tavern and drink ale."
After some more heavy fighting and a respite, the Turks try some sneaking to get to von Kalmbach, but again Sonya is there: "Tshoruk snarled like a wolf and struck him savagely on the head
with a scimitar hilt. Almost instantly, it seemed, the door crashed inward. As in a dream Gottfried saw Red Sonya framed in the doorway, pistol in hand. Her face was drawn and haggard; her eyes burned like coals. Her basinet was gone, and her scarlet cloak. Her mail was hacked and red-clotted, her boots slashed, her silken breeches splashed and spotted with blood.
With a croaking cry Tshoruk ran at her, scimitar lifted. Before he could strike, she crashed down the barrel of the empty pistol on his head, felling him like an ox. From the other side Rhupen slashed at her with a curved Turkish dagger. Dropping the pistol, she closed with the young Oriental. Moving like someone in a dream, she bore him irresistibly backward, one hand gripping his wrist, the other his throat. Throttling him slowly, she inexorably crashed his head again and again against the stones of the wall, until his eyes rolled up and set. Then she threw him from her like a sack of loose salt."
As she says : ""The bells of Saint Stephen!" cried Sonya. "They peal for victory!""
The defenders have won, and the Turks retreat. Sonya and von Kalmbach spare one of the sneakers they have caught, and send him back with a grim message for the attackers.
4 out of 5
Costigan shows the guts his dog does when he fights a French champion without knowing who he is.
4 out of 5
A Texas feud gets ghostly.
3.5 out of 5
Giving the Ghost Man back his loaner.
3.5 out of 5
The titular bunch are a gang of murderers, and they have their eyes on half a million in gold.
3 out of 5
A little courting sneakery.
3 out of 5
A man is murdered, and in no ordinary fashion. When law enforcement investigates this is the story he gets from a witness:
"and my God, sir, he was dead! His head had been split open. I saw brains and clotted blood oozing down his face, and his face,,,"
It appears there is a zuvembie in town, the long awaited aftermatch of a property that had white women mistreating their black slaves, badly.
4 out of 5
A gunman taking revenge on a wealthy landowner ends up in a storm with someone who has revenge plans on a much bigger scale.
4.5 out of 5
A return to roots rebellion has El Borak in the middle of things, but with a spook woman to liven things up a bit more than they already are.
3.5 out of 5
"Shut up!" growled the pirate. "I'm going to save you for the sake of the lady and the lass, but I don't have to talk to you!" With rare consistency he then continued: "We'll leave this trap the same way I came and went.
So, Black Vulmea is not always completely self-interested. :) Here, he does the right thing, even at risk to himself.
3 out of 5
Conan is travelling, finds a dead woman, and then encounters Valeria of the Red Brotherhood. After trading some insults, they have the misfortune to stumble across a dragon.
Then they have fun in an abandoned city full of crazed warriors, two evil, leering royals, and a third undead type one. Capture, bondage, slayage, all the great stuff in this tale of a fantastic partnership.
5 out of 5
4.5 out of 5