Pulp Story Review, Robert E. Howard

Blue Flame of Vengeance Review

Blue Flame of Vengeance (originally titled Blades of the Brotherhood and first published in Red Shadows in 1968)

by Robert E. Howard

This short story was never published in Howard’s short life time and was finally published more than thirty years after the author’s death.  The story, as many Howard stories often do, opens sans the title character between a duel between the offended Jack Hollinster and a nobleman named Sir George Banway near the shore of an English town.  Sir George had offended Jack by publicly slandering, Mary Garvin, the woman he loves.  The local magistrate halts the duel after Jack’s quicker blade wounds Sir George’s arm.  While the magistrate considers the matter of honor concluded, the two men seek a clash of rapiers to the death.  However, each second as well as the magistrate break up the two men before it becomes lethal. Image

Jack Hollinster decides to walk the English shore line to cool his head where he encounters a tall swordsman dress in black with a slouch hat, the only bit of color about him a green sash made of fine silk.  The wanderer introduces himself as Solomon Kane and speaks with Jack who is still furious from the duel.  Kane has come here seeking Jonas Hardraker, whom some call The Fishhawk.  Out on the sea is a black ship keeping its distance from the English settlement and Kane believes it to be the Fishhawk’s.

Later, Jack Hollinster wakes from nightmares to discover from his Mary has been abducted by Sir George.  Jack takes with him Sam who told him of the fiend’s deed to go to Banway’s home to rescue poor Mary.  Jack and Sam reach the dilapidated home of Banway, and before Jack can find entrance he is betrayed by Sam.

When Jack awakens he finds himself in the the large cellar of the Banway estate bound hand and foot.  He is surrounded by garish and dangerous pirates as well as Sam and Sir George.  Mary is bound to a great oak ring with him in the cellar where the couple is taunted by Sir George.

The carousing pirates at interrupted by Solomon Kane who had infiltrated the Banway estate.  Armed with two wheellock pistols Kane seeks to rescue Jack and Mary and pierce the black heart of the Fishhawk with a pistol bullet.  The Fishhawk realizing he is dead-to-rights frees the captives and taunts Kane.  He calls Solomon a coward for not having the courage to face him in an honest duel. The ploy works as Kane hands his pistols to Jack and prepares to duel the Fishhawk in a fight with daggers.  Kane armed his dirk and the Fishhawk banishing a wicked-looking Turkish dagger.


     The Blue Flame of Vengeance is only complete story that Howard wrote about Solomon Kane that has no fantastic or supernatural elements to it.  Even the uncompleted fragments of Kane stories alluded to some sinister supernatural start.  It may have been the lack of any fantastical elements that prevented Howard from being able to sell this story.  It is merely a work of swashbuckling action without any of usual weirdness to it.  This does not take away from the story.  The swordplay and action scenes are Robert E. Howard’s usual visceral and vividly descriptive style the author is known for.  As are the expertly crafted visages of the pirates.  I felt like I was there in the cramped cellar with these brigands.

This story may also be one REH’s more dialogue heavy stories.  Unfortunately, the author tends to be a little weak there, but in Blue Flame of Vengeance to conversing is serviceable.  The character of Mary is largely a plot device which like Red Shadows and nearly every other Howard story with notable exceptions (Red Nails being one) is very typical for him.

As I stated before, I’m a bigger Solomon Kane fan than Conan fan, and I enjoy this story as standing apart fro the other Kane stories having no supernatural element.  It is a good read and well worth it for a fan of swashbuckling action, sword and sorcery, and 1930s pulp stories.  In terms of Solomon Kane stories I rate it a little less than middle of the road.

Bottonline: This is the one Kane story without any supernatural elements that is a decent enough read.  However, it is a little less than average writing for Robert E. Howard and not likely to sway someone who is not already a fan.

Pulp Story Review, Robert E. Howard, Sword and Sorcery

Red Shadows Review

Red Shadows (first published in Weird Tales, August 1928)

by Robert E. Howard

ImageTraveling on a moonlit night the puritan wanderer named Solomon Kane discovers a mortally girl.  Asking what fiend had done this to her the girl gives the name Le Loup.  As the girl’s body goes limp, Kane’s is filled with righteous rage and swears an oath, “Men shall die for this.”

Later, at the lair of bandit Le Loup, his men tell tales of Solomon Kane vengeance as if he were demon.  Kane has slew nearly all of Le Loup’s men leaving the initials SLK carved into the cheeks of the dead.  Even now the last remaining bandits escaped with barely their lives.  In fact, these survivors have led Kane back to Le Loup’s lair.  It is only by treachery and trickery that Le Loup escapes Kane.

Months, perhaps even years, have passed since the confrontation between Kane and Le Loup.  The trail has lead Solomon to the Dark Continent of Africa after his quarry.  The fire of vengeance no less intense even after countless miles.  Kane has his ship wait for seven days afterward they can assume that he will never return from the jungle.  Solomon attempts to sneak upon the African village that Le Loup has joined in hopes of surprising the Wolf and finishing what Kane believes to be God’s justice.  As stealthy as Kane is, he bested by a humungous African warrior named Gulka, the gorilla-slayer.


Kane painfully awakens bound in a hut with a ju-ju man.  N’Longa, the ju-ju man, offers deal to Kane to work together to bring down Songa the chief of the village and his new partner Le Loup.  Before Kane can react, he and N’Longa are pulled from the hut and bind him to a post in front of the Black God, a huge, black parody of the human form.  He meets again with Le Loup who is cockly describes all the near misses two of them had in their chase from Italy to Spain.  Le Loup explains that he was never truly concerned to confront Kane, but found the chase far more enjoyable.  That is until now.  Now he has decided he has grown weary of the game and it must end with Kane’s death to the Black God.

Suddenly N’Longa appears as if by magic only to be felled by the great brute Gulka.  Also tied to a post it appears that N’Longa and Solomon Kane are to burn in sacrifice to the Black God.  As one of the villagers begins to set fire to N’Longa, the ju-ju man threatens his enemies with magic he has never let living men see.  The torch man falls dead seemingly of fright.  N’Longa goes into a trance and the once dead man rises once again and moves toward chief Songa…


   While this is not my favorite Solomon Kane story, I do think it is an excellent example of the tenacity of the character.  The story also foreshadows Kane’s future adventures in Africa has well as the strange friendship between the puritan and N’Longa the ju-ju man.  The story’s basic frame Kane seeking to help a young girl/woman for no reason beyond it being God’s will or good will be seen again in The Moon of Skulls.

I also think it is important to spend sometime in this review to go over the racism or perceived racism found within this and other Robert E. Howard (REH) stories.  Yes, Howard describes Gukla as having an ape like head and many of the African villagers having flabby red lips.  Chief Sulka is given a particularly unsavory description.  Even N’Longa speaks pigeon English in this story.  However, I do not believe it was Howard’s intent to make the Africans seem inferior rather Sulka and Gukla are villains and as such given ugly features as short hand to their villainy.  In the later story The Hills of the Dead, N’Longa speaks highly eloquently in Kane’s dreams due to the ju-ju man’s vast intelligence not bound to the crudeness of language.  In fact N’Longa demonstrates in that story to understand the universe better than Kane or really any other white man with his knowledge of the supernatural.  Finally on this subject, I will state that REH lived in rural portions of Texas his entire life in the early part of the twenty century.  There is was nothing stopping him from being much more racist that he writing are given the place and time he lived, and yet some of his writing seems to contradict this.  I won’t say that his stories don’t have any racism when view through contemporary values, but that I believe that his critics are far more harsh toward him that he truly deserves.

I want to finish up by stating that Solomon Kane is my favorite Robert E. Howard protagonist.  I enjoy his adventures far more than Conan’s exploits.  However, I can see why Conan has wider appeal.  Kane is too rigid and fanatical in his cause seeming less like a man and more, as I’m sure Howard intended, a weapon of God’s justice.  REH himself noted that using earth’s own history was often times more of a noose that required far more research for creating a story than it was worth.  While nearly all of Conan’s world has a fairly obvious real world equivalent, Howard used this a short hand and changed the parts he wanted or was ignorant of to serve plot of Conan tales.

Bottomline: Red Shadows was still early in Howard telling of his stories and has a few rough parts.  Additionally, the African depictions could be offensive to modern readers depending on how they interpret them.  However, this story is a very good tale of swashbuckling and sword and sorcery.