Saturday, August 12, 2023

Conan - Shadows in Zamboula

The November, 1935 issue of Weird Tales featured “The Man-Eaters of Zamboula”, a Conan the Cimmerian story authored by Robert E. Howard. The story was later republished in the 1954 Gnome Press collection Conan the Barbarian and the 1968 Lancer paperback Conan the Wanderer as “Shadows in Zamboula”. The story was adapted to comic format in Savage Sword of Conan #14 (1976), and reprinted in Conan Saga #17 (1988) and The Savage Sword of Conan #2 (2008).

Conan finds himself horseless in the westernmost outpost of the Turanian Empire, Zamboula. This city, ruled by Jungir Khan and his mistress Nafertari (revealed in this story) serves as a diverse meeting place for traders and drifters. But, Conan hears a tale about a mysterious inn owned by a man named Aram Baksh. Rumor has it that newcomers to the city fall prey to the innkeeper, disappearing to parts unknown while their belongings are later sold in the marketplace. Conan, never backing down from a challenge (see "Tower of the Elephant"), wants to learn the secret of this dreadful place.

The Cimmerian hero soon approaches Baksh about spending the night at his inn. One of the odd things that Conan learns is that at sundown, no one ventures into Zamboula's streets, not even the beggars. Shown to his room, Conan pulls the curtain on the quieting town, locks his door, and falls asleep with his sword in hand. He awakens in darkness and discovers an intruder has unlocked the door and forced himself into the room. Conan quickly kills the intruder and discovers he is a black Darfari slave with teeth filed down to fangs. This man is a flesh-eating cannibal! 

Conan learns that Baksh has been selling his guests to the cannibals, then selling their belongings at the marketplace. This is why at dark, Zamboula lies in a quiet stupor as Baksh's disturbing transactions take place. With sword in hand, Conan journeys onto the dark streets and finds three cannibals carrying a woman towards a torturous bone pit. Slaying the psychos, Conan teams up with the girl to find her kidnapped lover (another victim for the flesh-eaters!) and they do battle with an evil priest named Totrasmek.

Robert E. Howard was really on top of his game with this eerie, violent tale. There's so much atmosphere in the early going with Conan discovering the intruder and venturing into the quiet streets. The author's vivid descriptions of cannibals, and the evil magic of Totrasmek, possessed enough imagery to rival the best of H.P. Lovecraft and other pulpy horror of the era (or even today for that matter). The overall theme – Conan accepting a challenge for money – always has a twist with these stories and this one was no different. The thrill-ride to arrive at the surprise twist was pure pleasure. This is my kind of Conan story, highly recommended.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

1 comment:

  1. I've long wondered why this tale isn't as famous as other Conan adventures. As you say, Howard was in peak form when he wrote this. It's packed with action, double-crossing, and humor. What more could you ask for?