Literature / Queen of the Black Coast

Queen of the Black Coast is a Conan the Barbarian tale by Robert E. Howard.

The story begins in Argos, with Conan fleeing for the docks, and the law in hot pursuit. He leaps aboard a merchant vessel, making good his escape, where he is welcomed by the captain - an infamous Pirate Girl named Bêlit has been terrorizing the coastline, and strong warriors like Conan are in particular demand for protection from the pirates.

Naturally, before long said pirates attack the ship, and Conan slays numerous crew before Bêlit herself intervenes - not by fighting Conan, but by seducing him. The two fall in love almost immediately, finding in each other a kindred spirit in a world where they are outsiders. They ravage the coastline together, their combined martial prowess so great that they become nearly legendary icons of piracy, earning Conan the nickname Amra (The Lion) which would stick with him for the rest of his days, and by which many would later remember him.

Then, Bêlit suggests an adventure up a deadly and forbidden jungle river, to a mythical city of ruins where great treasure is said to wait for anyone brave (or stupid) enough to enter, setting up a confrontation with worse horrors than even they had imagined.

Renowned not only as one of Howard's best stories, but as one of the greatest examples of pulp fiction and heroic fantasy ever written. Not only is the narrative smooth flowing and well polished, but Howard's penchant for poetry reaches its zenith. Bêlit herself is among Howard's best known characters despite only appearing in this one story - she's been named among the best female pirates in fiction, and was a major inspiration for the character of Valeria in the 1982 Conan film.

The story has entered the public domain and may be read here: Queen of the Black Coast.

Tropes included

  • Bad Boss: Bêlit. We'll give her a pass on reacting to the slaughter of half her crew by declaring her undying love for the slaughterer; arguably, that act saved the other half of her crew. But taking herself and Conan unobtrusively out of the way of a death trap, while doing nothing to warn four of her men and leaving them to get crushed so she can grab the treasure afterward... whoa. Harsh.
  • Brains and Brawn: Bêlit and Conan. Or so we're told.
  • Burial at Sea: Bêlit's Viking Funeral.
  • The Corruption: The winged ape can drive you mad.
  • Dead Guy on Display: The winged ape hangs Bêlit from the yard-arm of her own ship by the necklace she looted from his city, apparently to mess with Conan.
  • Dreaming of Times Gone By: Conan has a true dream about the history of the jungle city while sedated by the black lotus.
  • Greed: Bêlit goes a little nuts at the prospect of the treasure.
  • Heartbroken Badass: At the end of the story, Conan's lover Bêlit is dead. He gives her a funeral and then wanders off into the jungle.
  • Heroic B.S.O.D.: After finding Bêlit's corpse, Conan dives into melancholy and becomes unable to think of anything except revenge.
  • Informed Ability: We see very little of Bêlit's purported intelligence and plan making.
  • Instant Sedation: Conan getting sedated by black lotus.
  • Kangaroo Court: Conan fled one in the opening (after killing the judge).
  • Love at First Sight: Between Bêlit and Conan.
  • Mating Dance: Bêlit dances like this for Conan.
  • Mighty Whitey: The all-black crew follow the pale-skinned Shemite Bêlit (and Conan, after he joins the ship as her co-captain and lover) unquestioningly, and treat her as more of a goddess than a human.