Click to Subscribe
▶  More from Blog Book Reviews REH Trails
‘The Blade is My Darling’
The Island of Pirate’s Doom by Robert E. Howard

Unpublished in Howard’s life time, first printed in 1976 in Black Vulmea’s Vengeance, pages 143-83

Stephan Harmer is Howard’s least sanguine character, who abhors lawbreaking and killing. As a shipwrecked merchant sailor he is soon caught up in the brutal intrigue of psychotic pirates, including a fascinating female character who is something of a cross between Red Sonja, Dark Agnes and Valeria, but with a sweet little girl side to her split-personality. The adopted daughter of an infamous “Black Irish” pirate, Helen Travel declares that “the blade is my darling” and means it, as she is a peerless fencer with the straight blade, while Harmer blunders along, big and hairy, butchering reluctantly with the cleaver-like cutlass he has taken up in his own defense.

There is nothing remarkable about the plot of The Island of Pirate’s Doom. There is also a lack of uncompromising will on the part of Harmer, who seems to be a character softened from Howard’s normal bent in order to appeal to a broader readership. The brutal nature of the combat is not reduced, but where Howard’s other heroes head lustily, remorselessly or gustily into combat—some even reveling in the mayhem—Stephan Harmer is appalled at his actions and the evil character of a woman he cannot help but desire.

Howard’s gift for scene setting and atmospherics are on full display:

“…the girl’s face glimmered like a rare white flower in the thick darkness…”

“ ‘I am fascinated and repelled,’ I replied, for the dim white oval of her face floated before me and her nearness made my senses reel. ‘As a woman, you attract me, but, as a pirate, you rouse a loathing in me. God’s truth, but you are a very monster, like that Lilith of old, with the face of a beautiful maiden and the body of a serpent.’”

And so stands Harmer, in the body of a Conan without the bloody ambition, with the sensibilities of a Kane without the obsessive drive. If ever Howard mimicked Burroughs in characterization calibrated to the broadest appeal, The Island of Pirate’s Doom was it.

Diction Notes

“…alarums and bellowings of the chase”

“My gorge rose at that.”

“Certes I could not leave her.”

“…the occasional raucous plaint of some jungle bird.”



Books by James LaFond

Add Comment