Sword Woman and Other Historical Adventures

Sword Woman and Other Historical Adventures - Robert E. Howard, Jim Keegan, Ruth Keegan Dark Agnes is a rare thing in the writings of Robert E. Howard: a female protagonist. As she says herself, "I drink, fight, and live like a man," and so it is that, once having killed the man she is being forced to marry, she is little different from a myriad other of Howard's fighting heroes. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it is a thing. The only real difference is in the attitudes of the men she faces in combat, who inevitably underestimate her strength and skill with a sword, with equally inevitable consequences.The three stories featuring Agnes are grounded in medieval France, rather than a fantasy world, and the first two are historical adventure stories without any fantasy or supernatural elements. They swing along with the pace and brutality for which Howard is famous, with some nice touches of intrigue. The third Agnes story was edited together from two unfinished versions and has a supernatural twist, which I felt was not needed but neither did it detract from my enjoyment.Perhaps, had Howard sold the stories (they were published posthumously) and had some success with them, Agnes would have developed into a more distinct character. As it is, they are good Howardian tales with enough of a different slant to make them enjoyably memorable.The other two stories in this collection are unfinished fragments featuring two of Howard's more usual characterisations: (male) barbarian super-warriors.Donn Othna is an Irish prince exiled, captured by Vikings and lost at sea, who washes up in India, of all places. This was apparently to be the start of a novel about his battles and intrigues (actually, Howard writes political intrigues rather well) with the various power-blocs of the decadent city-state in which he finds himself. The story ends quite abruptly after the description of a fairly brutal hand-to-hand between Donn Othna and a strangler-assassin.The final story, featuring exiled Irish prince Turlogh O'Brien, is framed as a flashback within a flashback, a nice recession that adds an interesting "Arabian Knights" quality to the tale. O'Brien is telling of his past wanderings amongst the steppe peoples east of the Caucasus. O'Brien is a grim fellow, even by Howard's standards, with a hatred for Vikings that is positively psychopathological (I'm not sure that's a proper word: he really, really doesn't like them, though). This story fragment ends even more abruptly than the last, which is a shame as it was just starting to roll.There's some debate amongst Howard fans as to whether his fragments are best published as they are - pristine and in Howard's words only - or completed and/or edited by other writers. Providing they are done well (I suppose that's obvious) and in sympathy with Howard's style, then I think I lean to the latter view. These are not works of great literature; they are well-crafted and exciting adventure stories that are great escapism. I want to know the end of the story, and if that means somebody else finishing them, so-be-it. I do prefer to know which are the original words of the master and which the addition of the imitator, rather like those ancient, cracked murals you see in museums: the yellowing plaster and faded paintings filled in with new, white mortar, the amputated limbs of the long-dead people replaced with bright-painted prostheses. The completions add to the enjoyment while leaving you able to appreciate the skill of the original artist.So, a bit of a patchwork volume, but it all holds together rather well.