Friday, March 01, 2024

Bêlit: Shipwrecked - V. Castro

BÊLIT: SHIPWRECKED is the latest entry in the series of Robert E. Howard pastiches published as e-books by Titan Books. Not surprisingly, it’s a prequel to Howard’s story “Queen on the Black Coast” and takes place before Conan meets the pirate Bêlit and becomes part of her crew sailing on the ship Tigress. In SHIPWRECKED, Bêlit is already a fierce, well-known pirate, but not even she can turn aside a terrible storm that damages her ship and casts it, her, and her crew ashore on what appears at first to be a rather idyllic island.

But of course, dangers lurk in the jungles and behind the waterfalls of this scenic location, and not everyone will get off the island alive.

I’d never heard of the author of this story, who’s credited as V. Castro, but according to the note at the end, she’s written several well-regarded horror novels. SHIPWRECKED has some strong horror overtones as well. The writing is good all the way through this story, and Bêlit is a strong protagonist, but for some reason this tale never really connected with me. Bêlit is a little too unsympathetic for my taste. I kept reminding myself that she’s a pirate; she’s not necessarily supposed to be sympathetic. But it didn’t quite work, and neither did the somewhat graphic sex, which seemed out of place in a Howard pastiche. Howard’s stories sometimes had plenty of sex implied in them, but when you were writing for the pulp market, most such things had to be implied and there was a limit to what you could put on the page. I realize this isn’t the pulp era anymore, but my approach to pastiches is that they should be written as if you writing for the same markets as the original author. Does that make sense?

But as always, that’s just me. Despite my complaints, I found SHIPWRECKED to be entertaining for the most part and I’m glad Titan is doing this series even though some of the stories don’t quite hit the mark for me.


Gary said...

I've been reviewing these e-books as well. I think we've been more or less in agreement. The standouts are Scott Oden and John Hocking. Jonathan Maberry's Kane was enjoyable as well. All three of those guys seem to get their characters a little better than the other writers. But at $1.99 a pop I'm willing to give them all a try.

Dick McGee said...

REH never had a graphic sex scene in his stories even by the very different standards of his day. If you're forcing one into a supposed pastiche of his work you're doing it wrong. Badly wrong.

That said, Queen of the Black Coast was a weird horror story first and foremost. The sword & sorcery elements are just a veneer over the horror. Doing a prequel to it is pretty daring to start with, but making it a horror piece as well at least feels appropriate.

Thanks for the warning. I'll be avoiding this one. Never read a REH pastiche I much cared for yet, but I do occasionally make the mistake of trying.