‘Conan Volume 16: The Song of Bêlit’ – Advance Hardcover Review

This is it.  The conclusion of Brian Wood’s Conan run, and the end of Robert E. Howard’s Queen of the Black Coast story.  Conan and the pirate queen Bêlit, the titular Queen of the Black Coast, are an unstoppable force, their desire for each other as intense as it is ferocious, and nothing on land or sea, Heaven or Hell, can keep them apart.  While equals, they both retain their individuality as they learn new things about themselves through the other. They are a violent, powerful couple, laying waste to those that defy them or stand in their way.  From their very first encounter, their love has been fraught with danger, with deceit, with death, and with each escape or conquest, there is a sense that this cannot last forever.  Collecting Conan issues nineteen through twenty-five, The Song of Bêlit tackles what happens when that time runs out and what is left in the wake of such a passionate, all-consuming relationship.

Displaying the supreme talents of artists Paul Azaceta, Riccardo Burchielli, and Leandro Fernández throughout the multiple arcs of this final chapter, The Song of Bêlit paints an exciting and emotionally charged picture of danger, desire, greed, and loss, each artist bringing a different element to the internal and external struggles and triumphs of Conan and his love.  Wood has worked with all of these artists before, and it shows, the art and story always blending into a cohesive whole, and the differing stylistic choices of the individual artists serving the storytelling in unique ways.  Dave Stewart’s colors wash over explosive violence and elegant beauty, lighting up scenes with hope or steeping them in deadly shadows.  Stewart brings a marvelous sense of the fantastic to the entire story that enhances the already eloquent narrative and adds to the grandeur of the artwork.  Because of the growing sense of dread that hangs over the narrative, Wood is able to present us with numerous exciting climaxes, because while separate in their action, they are connected in the way they affect Conan and Bêlit, their adventures and brushes with death lingering in their psyches and adding more fire to their passionate love affair.  Conan and Bêlit are deeply connected, physically and emotionally, and they feed off of each other’s strength, drowning out fear with cunning, military prowess, and pure brute force, and glorying in their combined invulnerability.  This leads to a dangerous recklessness, though, which may place them in situations from which they cannot escape, or foes which they are unable to overcome.  They already have the greatest treasure, a love that survives all trials and tribulations, but they continue to seek out more extravagant riches, the stakes growing with each quest.

The Song of Bêlit pushes Conan to his emotional limits and beyond.  There are incredible battles and insurmountable odds, and Conan and Bêlit are always prepared to take on the world.  More than once Conan proves how absolutely selfless his love is for the pirate queen, and in this selflessness the two are matched.  Conan and Bêlit would raze kingdoms to save the other, of that there is no doubt.  At the same time, though, Wood infuses a tender, elegiac tone into the story through Conan’s narration, and it brings a relatable empathy to this barbaric, ruthless character, revealing a need and desire to love and be loved, and his haunting fear of losing Bêlit to their violent lifestyle.  This final volume is full of ominous premonitions that will put you on edge, but it is also full of heartfelt devotion and emotional depth that will make you feel the pangs of love and loss, for The Song of Bêlit is a song we all know, and know all too well.

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