Conan and Belit are raiding up and down the coasts of Shem, Stygia, Kush and the various other countries which border on the western sea. They are especially interested in raiding Stygian vessels, due to Belits family history with them. Her family were apparently settlers of a sort in Kush but were killed by Stygian evil doers. We learn of this as to also give an idea of the background of Stygia itself, since though it has been mentioned before, this will be the first time readers have actually visited the benighted land itself.
Elsewhere, the Stygian sorcerer Tothapis sets in motion events designed to destroy the piratical pair. He sets bait to lure the pirates into a trap, news of Belits brother, long thought deceased is spread amongst the crews of ships just waiting for them to be predated upon. Once this news has been heard, Conan and Belit set out to Stygia to rescue her missing family member.
Along the way they run afoul of prophecies of one sort or another, Conan becomes the wielder of a legendary axe, and they take a ride on a flying boat. Eventually they deal with the traps, and foil the plans of Tothapis, and beat an escape from Stygia and continue on with their piratical adventuring.
I really didn't like this book, which is a shame, as I typically really like Poul Anderson. It doesn't feel like Conan, and I really dislike that an author as seasoned as Anderson did something as amatuerish as inserting his story in between chapters of one of Robert E. Howard's stories. Obviously he wanted to make use of Belit, and for reasons to be revealed in my next review had to do it this way, but his way of going about using her feels really poorly executed. The best bits about it are the geographical details it gives about Stygia, and the fact that it shows Conan yet again interfering with this necromantic kingdom's plans of world domination. Though it's a slow burn, sporadically cropping up, it becomes the dominant theme of the Meta-Series that Conan is obviously destined to destroy Stygia during his lifetime.
The story is boring, it makes use of the "Bandit run" trope which I've commented on before, it introduces some extremely strange elements which feel like they would have been more at place in a Thongor story (the flying ship), and over all just doesn't feel like a Conan story at all.. I hate to say it, but this one kept my interest about as much as the average Steve Perry book does. It's a shame, as if Anderson had given us a story more akin to his Viking books (Mother of Kings, Broken Sword, Hrolf Kraki's Saga, the Last Viking, War of the Gods) instead of a book which feels more like a pastiche of Burroughs or Lin Carter.. I think it would have been wonderful. As it was, it was forgettable at best, and an annoyance for breaking up the totally superior REH story at worst.
If you want another really good review of this book and it's problems, check out CROM!'s review from June.