This short story/novella falls about in the middle of the series of Conan adventures published by Robert E. Howard from 1932 – 1934. Based on my extensive research (meaning after a couple of Wikipedia searches), I learned that Howard was looking for an “epic” tone to this particular story, and apparently The Queen of the Black Coast is a favorite among Howard’s fans. I was surprised to see certain key elements, including a few snippets of dialogue, were borrowed from this story and included in the big-screen adaption of Conan the Barbarian (1982). So clearly this particular story is essential reading for Conan fans.
Having said that, I didn’t enjoy this story as much as I did The Hour of the Dragon. The story starts strong, but the relationship between Conan and Bêlit, the pirate dubbed the Queen of the Black Coast, demands a lot of indulgence from the reader. Just to be clear: I’m not Roger Ebert…I don’t expect or particularly want strong romance in the stories I read. But if the romance forms a central pillar of your story, then it needs to be believable on some level. But we essentially see Conan impress Bêlit after handily defending himself from her pirates, and then bam! They’re in love. And since I didn’t buy into the relationship, I didn’t experience the reaction from the fate of Bêlit that Howard likely intended.
The action is certainly there. In this respect, The Queen of the Black Coast delivers handily. In addition, Howard displays his skill at world building here. Personally, I think Robert E. Howard is particularly gifted at this, as the Hyborian Age setting feels so authentic.
So while this particular story may not have rated as highly with me as with Howard’s more dedicated fans, I would still recommend it to fantasy fans. As additional motivation, if you’re a fan of the movie, you can see who Valeria was partly based on.