Robert E. Howard
Bran Mak Morn (C) (1996)
The Robert E. Howard Library Vol. IV
Reviewed: 1997-07-20

This fourth volume of the Robert E. Howard Library is the last one dedicated to the exploits of a single central character. In fact, only a single story, the excellent "Worms of the Earth", is told from Bran Mak Morn's viewpoint, and two stories have only tenuous links to the Pict. The introduction by David Weber provides a successful analysis of this dark hero and Howard's writing.

Bran Mak Morn is the last pure-blooded king of his degenerate race, the Picts, an ancient, neolithic people, once rulers of the entire European continent, now driven into the inhospitable North of Britain, and soon to vanish completely. Possessed by a desire to restore the past glory of his people, Bran is caught in a continuous and bloody struggle against the Roman occupation of the isle. In "Kings of the Night", having united the feuding tribes of the Picts, Bran gains the support of hereditary enemies, Gaels, Britons, and Northmen, in a battle against their common foe. King Kull also makes an appearance, 100,000 years after his time. Having had to watch the murder of one of his Picts at Roman hands and burning with hate, Bran in "Worms of the Earth", easily the best story of this volume, even evokes an ancient evil against the invaders, ignoring those that implore him not to unleash forces beyond human control.

Bran only appears posthumously in "The Dark Man", the actual hero of the story being a Gaelic outcast, Black Turlogh O'Brien, another grim character, who is also the protagonist of "The Gods of Bal-Sagoth", a story otherwise unrelated to Bran Mak Morn, and the closing piece of this collection of hack-and-chop heroic fantasy by the inventor of the genre. As usual, Howard's writing, if simple-minded, is full of vigor. As David Weber succinctly puts it: "A would-be author can learn an immense amount about how to pace himself and how to keep track of the physical action of a violent and gory confrontation from Robert E. Howard."

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