Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Review: Black Vulmea's Vengeance by Robert E. Howard

Robert E. Howard is best known for his Conan Cimmerian and Solomon Kane stories, but he was an astoundingly prolific writer and visited many genres from Westerns to... pirates! Black Vulmea's vengeance & Other Tales of Pirates is a collection of three pirate stories: "Swords of the Red Brotherhood", "Black Vulmea's Vengeance" and "The Isle of Pirates' Doom".

The first two stories star Black Vulmea, an early seventeenth century pirate who is eerily reminiscent of Conan in many regards. Of Irish origin, he is a feared pirate captain in the Caribbees, but has learned the secrets of the forests amongst the Indians. Both of these stories take place far away from Caribbean as we find Black Vulmea on the Pacific side of the American continent.

The first Vulmea story was a surprise to me, as it is basically the same story as Conan's "The Black Stranger", but with Conan replaced with Vulmea. I must say that I found the Vulmea version better. Conan always did seem ill-fitted to the story and the setting was difficult to place on the map of Conan's other adventures. Both versions were found after Howard's death and experts disagree on which one came first, but I think the story is a better fit for Vulmea.

The second story sees Vulmea captured by an old enemy, a British officer who has the pirate try to extend his life by promising to lead him and his men to an ancient treasure hidden in an abandoned city. An interesting plot twist in the relationship of these two characters shows that Vulmea is - after all - not just a copy of Conan.

The third story stars one of the few of Howard's female characters and one that I had not heard of before. Helen Tavrel is a surprisingly complex character from Howard's pen and it is a shame that the single short story does not get to explore her more fully to explain some of the apparent inconsistencies (she breaks into tears rather surprisingly). However, it becomes very clear that Howard intended to write more about Helen, so perhaps the perceivable unevenness and other aspects of the character would have been explored in following stories.

This collection of pirate stories was published in the 70's and is difficult to find these days. Fortunately, the stories themselves are freely available at services such as Project Guthenberg and can be easily enjoyed by us all. They are a must-read for any fan of Robert E. Howard and naturally of pirates and their era.