I've had these three books for more than thirty years, and I'm sure I read at least one of them. But I'm pretty dang sure I never got around to reading all three, and had no idea they constituted a trilogy. I still didn't know that a couple of months ago, when I started The Sword of Skelos, and remained clueless until I ran into a whole chapter recapping events critical to the understanding of the plot. That's when I dug out the other two books and figured out they both took place before Skelos, even though one of them was published after.
I understand that Ace and Bantam were (and still are) competing imprints, but it seems a little petty that they wouldn't tell us the book(s) they were publishing were part of a larger story that just happened to stray outside their own pages.
But even beyond the issue of different publishers and the odd order of publication, this is a peculiarly mismatched trilogy. The first two "novels," Conan and the Sorcerer (1978) and Conan the Mercenary (1980), are really just long novelettes. The type in each book is huge, and roughly a third of the pages are devoted to extravagant illustrations by Esteban Maroto.The Sword of Skelos (1979) has many more pages, with nearly twice as many words per page, and a smattering of small, totally unneccesary illos by Tim Kirk.
Kirk's spot illustrations, a feature of all six books in Bantam's "Fantastic New Adventures of Conan" line depict such mundane items as a saddle, a sword, an amulet, a tavern sign and a purse. Ho hum. Kirk's strengh was drawing people and animals and giving them loads of personality (as in Don Grant's Bear Creek collections) and his talent was totally wasted here.
Offutt's style, while lacking the poetry and rhythm of Howard, is serviceable. My only complaint is that a few scenes dragged on too long while he was struggling to insert comic relief. Storywise, the whole saga hangs together pretty well, and builds to a satisfying climax in book three.
There are better (and worse) Conan stories, but this one may have the honor of being the longest continuous narrative.