Last Updated on November 28, 2023
Lord of the Mount opens with Conan as the last survivor of a vanquished raiding party. Surrounded by the dead, as the battered barbarian’s consciousness returns the first shapes that come into view are that of a small group of cattle and their herder. The eyes of both the cows and the man tending them have a strange purple tinge to them, hinting at long term use of the intoxicating powder of the black lotus. Wary of the shifty lotus addict, Conan nevertheless accepts a meal of wine and steak—carved directly from the flanks of the passive, drugged cattle—from the man. Known as Jen Ro, the herdsman tells Conan of his destination: the village of Trinnecerl, where ale and women are plentiful. He warns that the mountain pass leading to the village is guarded by a fearsome monster, however, the so-called Lord of the Mount. With no better destination in mind, the rootless barbarian wanderer elects to accompany Jen Ro, hoping to indulge himself in the pleasures Trinnecerl has to offer and see this Lord of the Mount for himself. Conan soon finds himself fighting for his life against a foe unlike any he has faced before.
Lord of the Mount is the first installment in the Heroic Legends series of monthly digital short stories starring Conan the Barbarian and other pulp fiction heroes created by Robert E. Howard. While not the first piece of new Conan fiction produced via the partnership between Titan Books and Howard franchise owner Heroic Signatures (that would be the Conan – Blood of the Serpent novel by S. M. Stirling), news of the Heroic Legends series was welcomed by Conan and Howard fans for a number of reasons. One was that the Conan stories and the sword & sorcery subgenre of fantasy as a whole originated as short stories and still tend to be most at home in that format. Another reason was the roster of authors listed with the series announcement. Experienced and reliable Conan authors such as John C. Hocking and Scott Oden were present and accounted for, yes, but there were also unexpected curve-balls like Laird Barron and V. Castro. Of the latter group, Stephen Graham Jones was a particularly anticipated contributor, as not only is his star currently ascendant within the horror genre (a field with considerable overlap with sword & sorcery), but his 2021 autobiographical Texas Monthly essay My Life With Conan the Barbarian had already fostered a sense of kinship among many sword & sorcery fans. Jones gets it, he’s one of us. We wanted to see what he could do with the character.
The strong points of Lord of the Mount are its minimalist premise and brisk pace. No time is wasted getting to the good stuff. The scene is set, Conan hits the road, and a knock-down, drag-out battle with the Lord of the Mount follows.
Unfortunately, Lord of the Mount is not entirely successful. Unlike many Conan pastiche writers, Jones made little effort to emulate Howard’s writing style. But he also didn’t seem to write in the colloquial, almost folksy voice Jones used in other works like The Only Good Indians. The result is sort of a hybrid, neither fish nor foul. Dissimilar to Howard, but also not quite Jones’ natural narrative voice.
The portrayal of Conan also felt off in parts. During his battle with the Lord of the Mount, in multiple instances Conan is described as “screaming.” Conan has never struck me as much of a screamer, but even if he had occasion to scream at least some of these screams should have been changed to “bellows” or “roars” for variety’s sake. Also, when Conan reunites with Jen Ro in the story’s denouement he reacts as if he has been subjected to a betrayal worthy of violent retribution. However, at the beginning of the story Jen Ro is pretty forthright when describing the danger of the Lord of the Mount and the means he uses to evade it, making Conan’s rage feel excessive and unwarranted.
While I expected more from a Stephen Graham Jones take on Conan, Lord of the Mount is still worth the small price of admission. I appreciate Titan Books’ willingness to go beyond safe and expected Conan writers, giving readers a chance to see a variety of different interpretations and portrayals of a familiar character.
Conan: Lord of the Mount by Stephen Graham Jones
In the US? You can get the book here.