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Conan the Defiant is a Conan novel by Steve Perry first published by TOR books in 1987 as a trade paperback with a cover by Ken Kelly [top image]. The mass market edition in 1988 had a cover by Sean Joyce [bottom image]. Defiant is the first of four linked novels by Perry with recurring characters, authored to fill the gap between the 1967 short story The Thing In The Crypt and Conan's arrival in Zamora, to begin his career as a thief. The subsequent novels, in series order, are: Conan the Indomitable, Conan the Free Lance, and Conan the Formidable.
Neg the Malefic is a necromancer. He dispatched agents to Khauran to obtain a magical talisman called The Source Of Light. His agents, being more greedy than trustworthy, betrayed him and tried to sell it to a mage in Koth. The mage decided to kill them and take the talisman but both sides perished in the struggle. The fetish was discovered by a monk of the Suddah Oblates and is now on its way to their temple in the northern Kezankian Mountains on the western border of Brythunia. Enraged by the news, Neg punishes the undead messenger that delivered it. In doing so, he inadvertently releases another undead from his control. Freed from slavery, the beautiful zombie woman, Tuanne, escapes Neg's castle and goes seeking The Source Of Light to free her and her fellow undead from Neg's power.
Fresh from The Thing in the Crypt, Conan has continued south through the mountains that separate Hyperborea from Brythunia. The opening of the novel finds him wearing crusty furs and travelling eastward through northern Brythunia toward the Kezankian Mountains that separate Brythunia from Zamora.
After finding a whetstone and sharpening his sword (from The Thing In The Crypt) Conan hears the sounds of combat coming from further down the mountain he has just crossed. He comes upon a single robed man defending himself with a cane against 5 attackers armed with a mixture of swords, long knives and spears. The robed man is surprisingly adept with his cane and disables two attackers but is tripped to the ground by a third attacker with a spear. Conan comes to the man's aid and slays one of the attackers. The other four bandits decide to leave.
The robed man is named Cengh, a monk of the Suddah Oblates, travelling to a monastery two days from that spot. Cengh invites Conan to travel with him and get food and clothing for his journey. Conan accepts.
A day's travel from the monastery they are attacked by a lizard-man that Cengh identifies as a Stith. The predator's primary means of attack is spitting acid at its prey, which Conan discovers when the thing attacks the two men. The two dispatch the beast and Cengh explains that they are territorial and solitary.
The Temple That Will Not Fall perched on the side of a mountain supported in large part by an intricate system of struts and arches. Conan and Cengh travel up a set of narrow steps cut into the mountain's rock to reach the main gate. Inside Conan is offered a bath and fresh clothing, food and a bed for the night...all for free. Conan soon learns that the priests conduct no system of trade inside the temple. The system is communal and the needs of each resident are met without trade of coin or service.
The next day, after Conan has eaten breakfast, Cengh gifts Conan with a scabbard in which to carry his sword. The newly made scabbard was crafted from the skin of the Stith they had defeated two days before and manufactured using a "special process" that allowed the leather to be tanned and worked in such a short time.
Cengh introduces Conan to Oblate Kensash, the combat master of the order. After Conan defeats Kensash's best student, an initiate monk named Malo, Kensash invites Conan to spar with him. The two spend several minutes examining each other's form and then declare a draw, for neither can find a weakness in the other's technique which would allow them to attack without mutual-defeat.
Conan is prepared to leave the temple and continue his journey. Two days have passed and Conan has come to appreciate the simple pleasures of life at the temple, but has decided that they are not for him. In that time Conan observed the lessons of master Kensash and learned a thing or two from the elder Oblate. The rest of the time was spent talking with Cengh and gathering his supplies for his departure.
As Conan walks toward the gates he comes across a confrontation between what looks like two priests but one has a long knife while the other is unarmed. The two are fighting near the bleeding body of a third priest, Mikahl. The imposter stabs the priest, takes something from the body over which they were fighting and then flees down a side-street.
The stabbed priest is Cengh.
With his dying breath Cengh tells Conan that his assailant was a servant of Neg and he has stolen The Source Of Light from Mikahl. He tells Conan that he must recover it, but dies before telling the Cimmerian what doing so will prevent.
Conan departs the Temple and lays in wait for the assassin along the path leading to and from the monastery. He confronts the next monk to pass but finds it is a woman dressed as a monk...the same woman he met inside the monastery just before he witnessed Cengh's murder...the same woman who ran after the murderer.
The woman knows the murderer, one Skeer, and is still chasing him. They agree to run him down together...Conan because it was Cengh's dying wish and the woman, Elashi, to recover The Source Of Light so she can use it to gain access to Neg's castle and kill him for engineering the murder of her father.
The pair catches up with Skeer at the inn of the next village...but not before Tuanne meets Skeer in the inn's common room. Beautiful but pale, Tuanne seduces Skeer and, once they are alone together in his room, she knocks him unconscious but not before he realizes her true nature.
As begins to look through Skeer's belongings for The Source Of Light, Conan bursts into the room prepared to kill Skeer.
Finding Skeer unconscious and a beautiful, naked woman standing in the middle of the room, Conan is distracted...Skeer, who came-to with the noise of the door crashing from its hinges, escapes, still naked, out the window while Conan and Tuanne talk. Conan is about to follow Skeer when an enraged Elashi enters and accuses Conan of stealing the fetish, attacking him with a stolen sword. Tuanne uses the confusion to filch Skeer's purse and makes off with The Source Of Light. Conan disarms Elashi and together they realize that the woman made off with the talisman.
Thinking that Tuanne was sent by Neg to ensure the return of the fetish and deciding that since she was smart enough to outwit him, what chance does a dull witted barbarian have, Skeer rides east toward the road Tuanne must take to return to Neg's domain. When he sees her travelling alone, at dawn, he immobilizes her with a solution of salt water (paralyzing to all Neg's undead) and relieves her of the jewel.
Conan and Elashi, travelling on foot, come across the woman a short time later, sitting in the middle of the road. She turns her head at the approach of Conan and Elashi, but does not stand up. Conan demands she return the talisman, which only makes Tuanne begin to cry. Elashi berates Conan for his callousness and, after explaining what the Talisman can do, Elashi insists they help Tuanne. Conan quickly begins thinking of Tuanne as a woman and not a zombie. Conan seems quite concerned that he will have to travel with two women.
A few hours later, an early snowstorm hits the mountain passes. Conan builds a shelter for his group to wait out the storm. Elashi's concern that they will lose Skeer's trail int he storm is assuaged by Tuanne's ability to sense the location of the Talisman. Skeer, driving his horse too hard in an attempt to outrun the weather, kills the beast when it loses the road in the snow and break's its leg...so he won't go hungry while he waits out the storm.
The storm lasts for 2 days and Conan fashions the group snowshoes so they can get underway quickly when the weather breaks. They make up some time on Skeer who is now struggling along on foot, heading toward a city in the mountains called Opkothard. As night falls, they stop for Elashi and Conan to sleep while Tuanne, who does not, stands guard. Tuanne wakes Conan in the night as a dire-wolf draws near their fire.
Neg discovers that Tuanne has slipped from his control and dispatches a group of Men With No Eyes to locate and return her.
Opkothard City is dedicated to the worship of the Spider God. By carrying The Source Of Light into the city, Skeer unwittingly offends the local priesthood. They contract with Opkothard's foremost spy, The Disguise Master, to discover the nature and mission of the carrier of The Source Of Light.
Conan, Elashi and Tuanne reach Opkothard only a half day behind Skeer, as the city's market square is about to close for the day. Bartering his newly acquired dire-wolf hide, Conan collects enough money to rent the trio a room for the evening, intent on resuming the search for Skeer in the morning.
Later that night, the Men With No Eyes enter the city to find Tuanne.
As the night turns old, a Suddah Oblate initiate enters Opkothard. It is Malo, come seeking Conan, who he blames for slaying Cengh and Mikahl.
The Men With No Eyes try to take Tuanne the next morning. Malo, is mistaken by the Men as an ally of Conan and is also attacked. He helps the trio dispatch their attackers and then attacks Conan, only to be cut down easily by the Cimmerian.
As retribution for bringing a powerful magical talisman into Opkothard, Emreaves, high Priest of the Spider God, curses Skeer with the Death of the Shes.
After following Skeer through the city for hours, Conan and the women lay in wait for him at the South Gate of Opkothard (the only entrance from the city that leads to the outside world).
Skeer escapes the city with the Curse of the Shes hot on his heels.
As the Trio makes ready to leave town in pursuit of Skeer, Conan discovers the Disguise Master is watching them. He robs him and ties him up and the trio leave the city. The Disguise Master vows revenge for the humiliation of being exposed by a barbarian.
Neg, discovering that the Men With No Eyes have been slain in their attempt to take Tuanne, calls them back to life. They rise from their slabs in the Opkothard morgue and set out after the zombie woman, much to horror of the morgue attendant.
In less than a week, Skeer arrives at Vanatta, the village near Neg's castle. Conan and the women arrive next, then the disguise master's band, then the Shes and then the undead Men With No Eyes.
Skeer delivers the Source to Neg and is killed and re-animated for his trouble. The Disguise Master and his band are defeated by Conan and Tuanne. Conan and the women decide to have Tuanne dimension door them into The In-Between Lands so they can bypass Neg's physical security. The undead men with no eays follow them to the other dimension. The Shes find Skeer but he is already dead so they begin to follow him around.
Neg is delayed by magical details before he can fully activate the power of the Talisman. He completes his work before Conan and the women can complete their journey and Tuanne leaves to answer the call of the fetish. Conan and Elashi escape the In-Between Lands by outwitting an exact copy of Conan who is guarding the exit. The Conan-copy makes short work of the undead Men With No Eyes.
As Neg's power continues to expand, all the dead from earlier in the novel as well as the recently dead for 1000 miles begin to rise and travel to Neg's castle. When the first 5,000 have assembled, he sends them off to kill all the men between his castle and Numalia, the capital of Nemedia.
Inside Neg's castle, Conan and Elashi encounter Skeer who agrees to guide them to the chamber where The Source Of Light is kept so they can defeat the necromancer. Elashi removes the talisman from the magical focus that amplifies Neg's power and they move through the hallways giving the "true death" to those of Neg's minions who wish it.
Conan, Elashi and Skeer face off against Neg in the final battle. The Cimmerian narrowly triumphs due in no small part to the timely intervention from an unexpected source.
Freed from Neg's control, Tuanne instructs Elashi on the proper incantation to free all the animated dead.
Conan and Elashi travel east together, toward Zamora.
- Neg - a necromancer, a.k.a. Neg the Malefic
- Men With no Eyes - monks who worship death
- Tuanne - undead woman in Neg's thrall who slips from his control and seeks a way to break his spell over all reanimated dead.
- Cengh - monk of the Suddah Oblates, a.k.a. The Messenger
- Skeer - assassin in the employ of Neg
- Elashi - daughter of Loran, chieftain of a Khauranian nomadic desert tribe. Tracking Skeer for the murder of her father and theft of a tribal talisman
- Kensash - Oblate master of swordsmanship at The Temple That Will Not Fall
- Malo - initiate of the temple and top student to Oblate Kensash
- Mikahl - monk of the Suddah Oblates, a.k.a. The Messenger, killed by Skeer to obtain The Source of Light
- Emreaves - High Priest of the Spider God in Opkothard
- the Disguise Master - agent for the priests of the Spider God in Opkothard
- Brute - most adept killer-for-hire in Opkothard
- Port [nickname] - rogue of Opkothard
- Starboard [nickname] - rogue of Opkothard
- Imelda - whore at the Boiled Pig Inn
- One-eye - thief in Vanatta
- Alleta - whore in Vanatta
- Piper - merchant's lackey in Vanatta
- Zenk - knifemaker in Opkothard
- The Temple Of The Men With No Eyes - home of an order of monks with no eyes who worship death. Also the castle of Neg the Malefic. Located near the border of Brythunia, Corinthia and Zamora
- Great Wall of Koth - location unknown [mentioned by name, only]
- Khalis - city in Koth [mentioned by name, only]
- The Temple That Will Not Fall - mountainside Suddah Oblate temple in the range separating Brythunia from Hyperborea
- The High Brythunian Road - main trade road through the (eastern) mountains
- Opkothard - walled city in the Brythunian/Hyperborean mountain range near the border of Zamora. Located near a cluster of four mountains called The Death Mask. Home of a major temple to the Spider God
- Tarantula Inn - inn located in Opkothard
- Vanatta - mountain village located on, or near, the border of Brythunia, Corinthia and Zamora. a.k.a. The Triple Juncture, a.k.a. Rain Town, a.k.a. Necromancer's Hold. Called a village but has three inns so the town must see a lot of transients
- Boiled Pig - inn located in Vanatta
- Smoking Cat - inn located in Vanatta
- Necropolis - inn located in Vanatta
- Khoraf, Khorosun, Onagrul - cities claimed by Turan on the eastern coast of the Vilayet [mentioned by name, only]
- The In-Between Lands - another dimension through which Conan (and his comrades) travel in order to bypass the physical security surrounding Neg's castle.
Mystic Items Edit
- Source of Light - talisman that can be used to dispel necromantic power or amplify it
- The Death Of The Shes - summoned by The High Priest of Opkothard, The Shes conjures thousands of large black spiders, as big as a man's hand, and places a geas on them to track and kill a certain individual...in this story the target was Skeer. a.k.a. The Curse of the Shes
Continuity Notes Edit
Conan the Defiant is considered by many to be an average effort by one of the least regarded Conan pastiche authors. While it is a passable high-fantasy yarn, a number of elements still seem out of place for many readers familiar with Conan and the Hyborian Age...some go so far as classifying it (and its 3 sequels) as apocrypha.
Fauna: Conan has been to a desert and seen a Cobra prior to this novel; Conan the Bold is the only explanation. His experience with that cobra is how he thinks of the rattling noise made by the Stith, an acid spitting humanoid lizard creature. He would surely have knowledge of what a dire-wolf is, prior to encountering one here, and he learns of the werewolf legend in this novel (no hint is given about whether or not he already knew the legend). Large black desert spiders appear here...explained by Elashi...she does not call them tarantulas but the author does later in the novel.
Languages: Many reviewers criticize the pastiche stories of (particularly young) Conan by suggesting that he learns new languages at a Pimsleurean pace. Conan would surely have learned Hyperborean during Legions of the Dead, if not before. It is not a huge stretch to suggest that there was a slave or two from Brythunia (Hyperborea's southern neighbour) with Conan in the slave pen. In Conan the Bold he spent eight months travelling through Aquilonia, the border of Nemedia, Ophir, Koth and Shem with the daughter of a noble family who was well educated. At the border town of Croton, a trade-caravan stop, there was likely more than a little Zamoran spoken and perhaps even some Brythunian. As well, Conan's grandfather had adventured in Zamora and would surely have learned the language. To get back to Asgard and then Hyperborea for "Legions of the Dead", Conan certainly seems to have stopped in Nemedia on the way (God in the Bowl). As in Conan the Bold, little or no time is spent in this novel explaining Conan's fluency in multiple foreign languages...but they also don't discuss his toilet habits, his exercise regimen or his daily diet. They all happen off camera and time spent learning a new language is not really high-adventure. In Conan the Defiant, Conan would surely be exposed to Brythunian in the Oblate monastery and Zamoran during his time in the Spider God worshipping city of Opkothard. He has no on-camera trouble communicating at either location. His experience with these two languages would be limited to only days in each case in this novel; suggesting he had prior experience with both.
Knowledge of Civilization: Conan has seen arches and knows they give strength to a building. He "realizes" how long it has been since he had been in civilization. Conan, "...knows that men in cities tended to keep their gold and silver either well hidden or well protected or both." He is adept at haggling with merchants. He knows that bridge builders in the mountains routinely keep spare cables cached nearby in case repairs are needed.
The Inbetween Lands: First introduced in his initial Conan novel, Conan the Fearless, this alternate dimension, filled with supernatural perils, can be used to traverse distances in the "real world" more quickly than doing so conventionally. In this novel it is used to bypass Neg's physical security and gain access to the inside of his castle.
Internal Inconsistencies: On page 113 Conan suggests the trio wait at the only entrance to Opkothard for Skeer to leave instead of following him in circles around the city. He tells Elashi, "We can sleep in turns, if need be." However, more than once in the novel it has already mentioned that Tuanne does not need to sleep.
On page 119, 10,000 tiny foot-falls are heard as the Shes moves toward Skeer. Earlier, on that same page, it describes the Shes as "...thousands of them [spiders]", i.e. 2,000 or more. Later in the novel there are also thousands of spiders. 2,000 spiders would mean there were 16,000 tiny footfalls, not 10,000; 3000 spiders would mean 24,000 tiny footfalls, etc.
On page 130, the Triple Juncture is described as being at the juncture of Corinthia, Zamora and Koth...but also the location of Neg's stronghold. Neg's stronghold is listed, earlier in the paperback, as being at the border of Corinthia, Zamora and Brythunia, not Koth. The distances travelled during the story support the earlier location of Brythunia, Corinthia and Zamora.
Odd Plot Devices:There are a long list of situations in the novel that, while not directly contradictory of established facts of Conan's life, still leave the reader wondering, "What's going on here?"
As a general rule, Conan is honest to people he does not dislike...yet he casually lies to Cengh, a recent acquaintance, travelling companion and combat ally, when he talks about the reason Cimmerian children learn to climb.
Would Conan, a 17 year old barbarian with a basic grasp of a number of civilized languages, use the word: 'twould"? Perry seems to like the word (he uses it at least twice in a number of the novels in this series). REH never uses the word in any Conan stories. Jordan has Conan use it once in Magnificent. Carpenter has Conan use it once in Hero and again in Raider. I can find no other time that Conan uses the word.
No mention is made of how the Disguise Master and his band find their way across the bridge that Conan sabotages to dump the Men With No Eyes into the gorge.
Near the end of the novel, characters use phrases that seem modern instead of more formal and era appropriate. For example, Brute says "I'll do Conan." using the word "do" instead of fight or kill. Shortly thereafter Neg thinks to himself, "So close, ...He would not fail. No way." The last two-word sentence seems jarringly out of place in a swords and sorcery tale.
Travelling trough the dimensional shortcut called the In-Between Lands, Tuanne repeatedly begins to fall under Neg's power and wander from the path they must follow...yet Conan and Elashi feel perfectly safe leaving her on guard that night while they sleep.
Despite Tuanne being called OFF the path through the in-Between Lands by Neg on two occasions the previous day, when she succumbs to Neg's summons and abandons Conan and Elashi in their sleep, she travels ON exactly the same path to escape that dimension.
An exact replica of Conan, encountered in the In-Between Lands, spits in disgust after calling the original Conan a demonish Illusion and magic. Conan, travelling via the means of magic through an alien dimension, stifles the urge to do so in agreement with his magical doppelganger.
"Even the rage of a fake Cimmerian is an awesome sight." ...'nuf-said
The monster fish in Neg's moat talk to each other about how awful the Shes spiders taste.
Skeer, who has been turned into a zombie for his efforts on Neg's behalf plays with the remaining "furry carpet" of Shes spiders in a comical fashion...then, on top of that ridiculous sequence, the author has the audacity to have Skeer observe to himself: "Good that he was not a storyteller or a minstrel...no one would believe such a tale."
Robert E. Howard was adept at telling horror tales. Defiant is about the walking dead and dark magic curses. But Perry's use of humour and personification of the zombies completely counters any attempt at horror or the macabre that he tries (or could have tried) to convey.
The anachronism "surgical" is used to describe one of Conan's sword-strokes.
After following the talisman across thousands of miles, Elashi decides to leave it to "...rest with (Tuanne's) bones." Neither Conan, who just finished avenging Cengh's murder during its theft from the order, nor Elashi, who just used it to send thousands of undead back to the Grey Lands, stops to think for a moment about the incredible power that the object just allowed Neg to command or that it should maybe be delivered to the Suddah Oblates or anyone else for protection/destruction. They leave it to lie in plain sight in a pile of ashes that was once the hand of a zombie woman that they loved, in a grove of evergreen trees not far from the entrance to Neg's castle.
Conan stories, despite being called high-adventure, are typically gritty, or low, or street-level fantasy; some reviewers compare it to historical fiction. Magical creatures are few and far between (and most are terrible bordering on horrific). Perry's tale abounds with exotic/supernatural creatures. Coupled with Perry's signature humour, which lightens (and many say destroys) the mood of his Conan stories, the reader is left to wonder if Conan lives in Oz, instead of Howard's Hyborian Age. The tone of this Conan story feels more like the movie Willow, only goofier in many parts.
Continuity Errata: This novel portrays a Conan that differs in significant ways from descriptions in other stories that take place near to the same time in Conan's life.
Conan the necrophiliac? Conan just finished facing the undead and being enslaved for 6 months by a necromancer in Legions of the Dead and then battling a reanimated skeleton in The Thing in the Crypt. So naturally Conan would be able to be fish-wifed by his female companion, Elashi, into accepting a female zombie into his travelling company. And then, a few days later, he (and Elashi) would naturally sleep with her...in the biblical sense. Talk about a whiplash change in character!
Conan the dimensional traveller? Conan is convinced (rather easily) to more speedily invade Neg's castle through dimensional travel using magic instead of employing his own skills and cunning in this world. Follow the yellow brick road and get me a neck-brace! Soon after his magical adventure in the other dimension, Conan spends time wondering whether they could use The Source Of Light to give the undead the "true death" without touching them first...nowhere in evidence is Conan's aversion to the supernatural that he shows in "Tower of the Elephant" or other stories that take place after this one.
Conan the hesitant? "His capture into slavery had not lessened his bravery; however, it had taught him caution." Shortly thereafter he second-guesses his instinct on which side of a battle to join in on. REH's Conan was all instinct. He didn't hesitate and think about what he should do. That's what a civilized man would do, not a barbarian.
Residents of Opkothard, a city dedicated to the Spider god, swear to deities other than the spider god? One of the rogues hired by the Disguise Master is shocked to find Tuanne is a zombie and exclaims: "Great Asura!" When Conan is fast enough to chop one of the Disguise Master's crossbow bolts in two, mid-flight, he yells: "By Set!"
References in the novel place it in the pastiche timelines where Conan is supposed to be around 16 or 17. Stories by various authors (including Howard himself) that take place after this novel refer often to Conan as a "youth." His youth is mentioned a number of times in the novel but the feats of strength Conan exhibits and his physical descriptions are more fitting for Conan during his mercenary days than Conan as a teenager...more like Schwarzenegger in Destroyer than the thinner, wiry powerful youth that deCamp describes in Legions of the Dead...If Conan has not yet reached his full growth and is tall and powerful but not yet as muscular as he will eventually become before he is enslaved by the Hyperboreans in "Legions", then how does he look like Schwarzenegger after being poorly fed for a winter in the slave pens and then spending a week or more almost starving while travelling south to the Brythunian mountains where we find him at the beginning of this novel?
At the beginning of the novel it states that one of Conan's diet staples since escaping from the Hyperboreans was "...late season berries." At a point soon after, the narrator mentions that the crops were ripening towards harvest moon. This novel takes place in the late summer or very early fall. However, Conan was captured in the early winter in Legions of The Dead and escaped in late winter or very early spring...6 months before this novel takes place.
When Conan meets Elashi, he thinks: "...she was a woman of deadly resolve. He had never met such a one before." If Conan the Bold happened (and it needs to have happened to justify all the knowledge/experience Conan already has about civilized cultures and languages) how can Elashi compare in any way to the deadly, suicidal revenge machine that was Kayla of Aquilonia? Perhaps this was due to the publishing schedule. Conan the Bold was published 18 months after this novel. While Perry and the series editor (Jordan, at that time) likely knew that a story was being written where Conan adventured for an extended period across a number of civilized lands prior to "Legions of the Dead", the specific details (like Kayla) were probably still pretty vague; too vague for Perry to know that his statement regarding Elashi would be falsified only a year and a half later.
Conan suggests it is "...his duty." to pay skeer back for killing Cengh. If that is part of Conan's "code" then why does he have no such compulsion to kill Queen Vamatar of Hyperboria for killing Njal and the rest of his Æsir comrades who died either by the hand of her undead minions or in the slave pens over the course of the previous winter ("Legions of the Dead")?
Conan the fencer? Face to face with Neg, "Conan shifted his feet into a fighting stance, sword raised. He began to inch forward in small, carefully balanced steps." That does not seem like Conan's fighting style at all.
Conan cries when Tuanne, the zombie woman, talks about her imminent demise.