(TLDR: A fun, quick read for fantasy fans. Silly but not stupid.)
John Jakes is best known for his voluminous historical novels (North & South, The Kent family chronicles, etc.) but he was also a member of the “Swordsmen’s and Sorcerers Guild of America” — an informal group of writers including Fritz Lieber, Michael Moorcock, Jack Vance, Poul Anderson, Andre Norton, Lin Carter, and L. Sprague De Camp, who lead the emergence of the swords & sorcery genre in the 1960s and 70s. (S&S as a genre could certainly be traced back to the pulp fiction of the 1920s and 30s, and perhaps even before that to some of Lord Dunsany’s stories like “The Sword of Welleran,” but it was in the 60s and 70s that it really became a recognizable and recognized genre.) Jakes created the character “Brak the Barbarian” as a sort of light-hearted homage to R.E. Howard’s “Conan,” but this short novel is more of a spoof of the whole S&S genre.
Hoptor the Vinter, a smooth-talking Atlantean pimp and rogue, tells the story of how “Conax the Chimerical,” a northern barbarian-king, arrives in Atlantis and helps set in motion the chain of events that lead to the island kingdom’s destruction. The story manages to be very entertaining despite the silliness. Hoptor is constantly scheming and fast-talking everyone around him, while Conax embodies all the worst stereotypes of the barbarian swordsman, making them an unlikely but very funny duo. Hoptor sees himself as an influence peddler and constantly advises his marks to mention his name when he sends them on errands or offers them favors, hence the book’s title. Conax pretty much nails how Conan might be depicted in a Flashman novel. The clash of cultures is enhanced by the introduction of the Zorophim, visitors from even further away than Conax!
At less than 150 pages, it reads very quickly, and the action takes on a break-neck pace at about the mid-point so it really feels even shorter than it is. There is quite a bit of violence, but Hoptor is generally too squeamish to give too many gory details. Still the novel can be pretty grim at times, with executions and battle imminent.
Any use for D&D? Well, the bronze-age island city-state of Atlantis is presented in fairly usable detail — much like Leiber’s Lankhmar, we get a general outline of some districts and streets, major landmarks, and the notable persons, so that you could pretty easily lift the whole thing. Hoptor makes a great NPC or an instructive model for players who haven’t got a handle on how to play a rogue in the mode of Cugel the Clever.
I’m not sure if it is really a ‘spoiler’ to mention the appearance of the Zorophim, saucer-flying aliens on a mission to find the ‘sacred fluid’ they need to fuel their technology, but they’d make a great addition to a gonzo campaign too.