Robert E. Howard, though best known for his horror and sword & sorcery, was at heart an adventure writer. He buckled anything that swashed. What better subject for swashbuckling adventure than piracy on the high seas?
Black Terence Vulmea is REH’s pirate hero. He is an Irish sea-rover, a survivor of England’s tyrannous rule over the Emerald Isle. We get two Black Vulmea stories: “Blades of the Red Brotherhood” and “Black Vulmea’s Vengeance”. “Blades” should be familiar to many Conan fans. It was originally a Conan tale and re-written as apirate sotry. L. Sprague de Camp re-re-wrote it as “The Treasure of Tranicos”. It’s a darn fine adventure as Black Vulmea finds himself stranded on a remote shore and involved with an exiled French nobleman, a rival pirate, hostile Indians, and a legendary lost treasure. It’s a festival of sword-play, double-crosses, and thrilling action.
“Vengeance” lets us get much closer to the pirate’s character. Vulmea is captured by Wentworth, a haughty Royal Navy captain. But the pirate is nobody’s fool and soon the tables are turned. This yarn is an interesting one in that REH gives full vent to his feelings on England’s rule of Ireland, and how a strong man deals with a bully. You might be surprised.
“Isle of Pirates Doom” rounds out the book. While it is a pirate tale, Black Vulmea is not present. Instead REH gives us one of his one of his sword-women: Helen Tavrel, the wildest she-pirate afloat. While Helen Tavrel has never gotten the notice that Belit (“Queen of the Black Coast”), Valeria (“Red Nails”), or Dark Agnes (“Sword Woman”) have received, this is an interesting story. Helen Tavrel isn’t just a man in drag or a sex-kitten with a sword. She has her own complex web of relationships and womanly sense of propriety. She’s no man-hater, but don’t take liberties, you’ll regret it.
Sadly out-of-print, Black Vulmea’s Vengeance is as fine a set of pirate yarns as was ever penned by a salty sea dog.