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Literature / Conan Blood of the Serpent

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Conan — Blood of the Serpent is a 2022 novel by S. M. Stirling in the Conan the Barbarian franchise. To celebrate the 90th anniversary of the release of the first Conan story, "The Phoenix on the Sword," Stirling was charged to write new Conan novels based upon Robert E Howard's original Conan canon. This is the first.

The story begins with Conan as part of mercenary company "in Stygia's dung-encrusted back end," the city of Sukhmet, bored of garrison duty and fed up with the oppressive heat and delays in getting paid. Then he sees a stunningly gorgeous and exceptionally skilled swordswoman defuse a Bar Brawl, and decides to stick around a bit to try and win the attention of Valeria of the Red Brotherhood.

Tropes Included

  • Bullying a Dragon: A Stygian gets a bit too handsy with Valeria, not realizing this exotic northern beauty is more dangerous than she looks. . . and utterly ignoring the fact that she looks pretty damn dangerous!
  • Continuity Nod:
    • Conan muses about Stygians keeping pet snakes, considered sacred thanks to the country's official god being Set, but is thankful Sukhmet doesn't have the larger serpents, like Khemi does, and notes those snakes are permitted to wander and devour whoever they want, as avatars of Set, and that Conan has killed one instead of let it eat him. Conan will face another such serpent, and kill it instead of letting it eat him, in "The Hour of the Dragon."
    • Conan reflects on being at the sacking of Venarium, a tale he will relate to Balthus in "Beyond the Black River."
    • Conan believes the difference between his time as a thief and the Sukhmet street thugs is that Conan never accosted folk on the street, instead robbing from rich and powerful in their own homes, including a magician and a fallen god. He did, indeed, try to steal from a place occupied by a magician and what could be considered a fallen god in "The Tower of the Elephant."
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: Conan warns Valeria one of these might be in store for her. She found a death fetish with a strand of her hair woven in it where a Set priest had camped the night before, and begun to make a threatening statement about if she saw him again.
    Conan: Be careful about that. If they find out you tried to hurt a priest of Set, they'll flay you and salt you and then try to think up something really nasty.
  • Dogged Nice Guy: Conan, strangely enough, toward Valeria. He sticks close to her hoping to impress her enough with how much more powerful, skillful, and honorable he is compared to the other available men she might take to bed. He seems certain it's a matter of when, not if, she'll fall into his arms. "Red Nails" indicates his confidence was not misplaced.
  • Edgy Backwards Chair-Sitting: Conan does this when he approaches Valeria. There is a point: sitting in a chair with its back in front of him, Conan would be unable to draw his sword without a lot of excess motion. Essentially, he's trying to be as non-threatening as Conan the Barbarian can possibly be, because he wants to woo Valeria.
  • Fanservice: The waitress at the tavern — the innkeeper's daughter — wears nothing but a loincloth and looks good in it. This is accurate to historical Egyptian clothing, and Stygia is prehistorical Egypt.
  • Foregone Conclusion: Anyone who has read Red Nails knows from the first chapter the broad strokes of what is going to happen in this novel, to wit: Valeria is going to kill an Stygian officer who assaults her, run into the wilderness pursued by the dead officer's brother, and Conan will follow them both because he has the hots for her.
  • Foreign Fanservice: In Stygia, Valeria gets a lot of attention because as a Northerner, her blonde hair, pale skin, and impressive height all make her exotic. Some comments indicate Stygians in general like getting Northern women, especially as slaves, for their exotic beauty, and imply the reverse is also true, with Northerners buying slaves from Stygia and further south in the Black Kingdoms.
  • Gambling Brawl: A Duel to the Death breaks out over dice between a Zamoran and a Corinthian. The Zamoran cheats by having backup to cripple the Corinthian, which Conan stops, though it remains unknown if he was actually cheating at dice.
  • Gargle Blaster: The local sorghum liquor, which Conan describes as having the same effect on one's head as a Vanir war axe.
  • Groin Attack: After a tense stand-off with a handsy Stygian, when Valeria makes one last remark he can't ignore, the man prepares for violence, and Valeria defuses it with a sea boot to the nethers.
  • Helmets Are Hardly Heroic: Averted. Conan's mercenary kit includes a helmet, and he goes without more because of the heat than anything else, and claps it on when necessary. His not wearing it during the slave revolt nearly gets him brained by a thrown rock; he immediately puts it on to prevent a recurrence.
  • In Love with Your Carnage: Conan is intrigued by tales of Valeria's beauty and competence as a warrior, and when he finally sees her her beauty does not disappoint, but he really gets hot for her when sees her speed, power, and perfect control with a sword.
  • Make an Example of Them: During a river crossing, a slave attempts to run. Archers sink an arrow into one calf, the other when he gets back up, then in both shoulders and both hips when he gets up again. Then the slave is dragged back and hung from a tree by hooks buried in his armpits, leaving him to dangle, slowly dying, as the carrion birds move in. The crows are first, and go straight for the eyes. This is to dissuade any other slaves from trying the same thing, since they're bound for a mine, where they will be worked to death in short order.
  • No Ending: The novel ends with Conan and Valeria in the middle of nowhere rushing to investigate what has just killed their horses. Anyone wanting to know what happened next will need to read Red Nails to find out how that is resolved.
  • Not Helping Your Case: When accused of cheating at dice, a Zamoran claims his dice "are as honest as the Great God Bel." The Corinthian retorts that Bel is a god of thieves.
  • Perspective Flip: The final scene of the novel shows the first scene of Red Nails, but from Conan's perspective, rather than Valeria's.
  • Prequel: This story is an immediate prequel to Red Nails, with Conan and Valeria serving in Zarallo's mercenaries in Sukhmet and the showing the circumstances that led them to where they were in that story. The final scene of this novel is actually the first scene of the novella.
  • Pun: In Stygia, in dice gambling, it's noted that what would be a winning throw of double sixes is "the demons" and a losing throw. Instead, the winning throw is double ones, or "Eyes of Set," known commonly and in real life as "snake eyes."
  • Revision: While the novel doesn't directly contradict anything that is established in Red Nails, it shows Conan and Valeria interacting with each other while serving in Zarallo's mercenaries to a far greater degree than their dialogue at the start of the novella implied, having had an entire adventure together already.
  • Slave Liberation: Type 3. The new slaves arriving at the mine take the opportunity of their guards being distracted by used-up slaves being sacrificed to Set to kill them and break free. Before anyone can react, hundreds of slaves are grabbing rocks and making for their mining tools to violently claim their freedom. This puts Conan in the odd position of siding with the slavers, something he does not typically do.
  • Super-Persistent Predator: The novel features a considerable variety of dangerous predators that pursue their victims with a vicious persistence at odds with their known behavior. Justified Trope because there is nothing natural about the animals' behavior, it is the result of the sorcery of a Priest of Set who is compelling them to try to kill Valeria. Said sorcerer/priest also puts a dying curse on Conan to make every predator in the region come after him.
  • Tasty Gold: Conan loots a street tough, finding a Stygian gold coin. He bites it to test its authenticity. (As the trope page notes, this is the "wrong" version, as Conan declares it real because it's soft — though back in the Hyborian Age, maybe gold coins weren't alloyed to make them harder.)
    He bit, and the gold was greasy-soft between his back teeth, pure with only a little silver in it.
  • Wretched Hive: Even for Stygia, Sukhmet is not a nice place. It's described as a place where respectable citizens bar their doors at night, the gates are closed and barred promptly at sundown, and even the Free Companions shouldn't wander after dark alone. The citizens who are out at night move in groups and carry clubs, and some of them are looking for people to use them on.