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Conan: Black Starlight review

eBook by John C. Hocking

Dedicated to Roy Thomas (Conan comic book writer and editor)

Cover once again by E. M. Gist 

From Titan Books and Heroic Signatures

Spoilers! Spoilers! 

A sequel to CONAN AND THE EMERALD LOTUS! Yes, the fan favourite Conan pastiche from 1995.

With their Little Shop of Horrors adventure with the wizard, Ethram-Fal now in the rear view mirror, the emerald lotus addicted long legged sorceress Lady Zelandra of Akkharia desires to return home, to do so Conan and friends have to cross the River Styx from Stygia to Shem.

Seeking a boat, our heroes arrive at the village of Quenah, but it's a ghost town. They sleep in an abandoned tavern, thinking of searching the docks the next day.
Two living corpses appear! One steals the sorceress's last stash of eldritch drug (the crushed seeds of a deadly, addictive lotus plant that enhances her magical powers and that she is tapering off over time to be free of it) while the other zombie is just a distraction brandishing swords.  
Heng Shih, the mute bald pot belied Khitan bodyguard/lover of the sorceress smashes one the animated dead men. Conan runs after the other living corpse (stinking of Stygian embalming herbs), tramples the thief and retrieves Zelandra's drug.

Zelandra uses a small dose of her emerald lotus green powder to detect the source of the reanimation magic. She finds it at the edge of the village. 

A flying webbed-winged eyeless leech with arms appears, taunting our heroes.
Another one appears, Conan takes one of its arms. 
Zelandra spirits both of the segmented star-spawns away.
They too were after the rare lotus drug.

At the edge of the deserted village they find an old blind seer, Ell-ith and her giant dog Shadrach. Ell-ith offers Zelandra her vials to help her in her quest.

Ell-ith mentions that the dying (of cancer) Nubar's cloaked mansion is only visible by Starlight. Even though they are told that the Lord of Quenah did despicable things, Conan still vows to the old woman that he will purge Nubar of his sickness.
Ell-ith dies.

They finally reach the hidden mansion and the stone spire aerie/lair of the star-leeches.

Zelandra uses proximal magic on a pool of water to communicate with the possessed Nubar. If they give Nubar the powder, they can go free. They decide to return to town. The two leeches slaughter their horses. Back in town the leeches stare down Conan and friends while a hoodooed Nubar drops from the sky to steal the powder from Zelandra.  Realizing that the powder has been destroyed, the enraged Nubar decides to kidnap Zelandra.

They go back to the mansion. A massive door once closed now lies open. They use a bench to keep it ajar. 

They find a faceless black Sphinx and Stygian sarcophaguses that spew full grown leech minions. Scribe Neesa pins a leech onto a table with one of her throwing-daggers, Heng fails to behead it but Neesa finishes the job with another dagger.

Conan hears the massive door pulverizing the bench, he tries to keep the door from closing but fails and ends up on the other side of it. 

Conan decides to climb to the leeches's nest. Ignoring the one-armed leech's harassment he reaches the spiral minaret. His tormentor opens up his shoulder. Conan plays possum, takes the leech's other arm, kills it and reaches the top of the spire where he finds a fire pit, a pond and Zelandra tied upside down, her coveted blood ready to be drained. 

The once Nubar reveals that he's full of baby leeches and that he desires to conquer Conan's world. The demon shows Conan a possible future where the Cimmerian could be a super strong immortal... but as a puppet ruler. Conan rejects the offer. 

The demon wants to extract what still remains of emerald power from Zelandra's lotus spiked ichor. The real Nubar, who only wanted the leeches to heal him back to health, is allowed to speak to Conan. The real Nubar tries to take control of his own body to give Conan an opening for a killing blow. Conan slashes Nubar's body. The fiend cuts Zelandra's neck and discards its possessed vessel to reveal a man-shaped leech. Yes, another leech. 

The man-leech tries to take Conan over, but the barbarian rips it in half and chops off its head. Conan cuts down Zelandra, she drinks from the old seer's vials and this cauterizes her neck incision. 

Zelandra goes to the black pond, dips the man-leech's severed head in its own negative dimension of white outer space and black stars, takes it out and flings it into the fire.

Zelandra opens the massive closed door, letting her scribe and lover out of their prison. She collapses from the effort, but refuses to take more green powder. She's almost kicked the habit. 

Conan now knows where they can find a boat to cross the Styx. End.

What I did like:

Hirudotherapy is a very real thing.

Black Sphinx of Nebthu callback.

Anu from Conan the Barbarian #10 mentioned. 

Goddess Derketo mentioned.

Goddess Ishtar mentioned.

Serpent god Set mentioned.

Yag-Kosha mentioned.

Frost Giant Ymir mentioned

What I did not like:

Too much time is taken describing the landscape, the weather, the sky, the lighting, rooms, buildings.

Too much time is taken to get to locations without anything happening to anyone.

Too much time is taken on the lotus addiction and the withdrawal symptoms.

Not enough time is taken to describe the heroes.

The giant dog didn't stay with Conan, it just ran away. It was just a dog. Lame. 

A villain barely developed.

Who is opening and closing the massive door?
Are the sarcophaguses incubators or portals?
Where did the cute baby leeches go?
What was the leech demon's name?
Why are we dipping the head of a "nobody" demon in its own dimension? A warning to deter further dimensional crossings?
What were the imprisoned Neesa and Heng doing all that time?

I give it an 8/10. Cosmic horror fans this is a weird and adventurous story you'll want to dive into, but be forewarned, you'll be left with plenty of unanswered questions. Don't hock your original Frazetta paintings to buy yourself an expensive dirty old second hand copy of CONAN AND THE EMERALD LOTUS! You'll find John's legendary tale from 1995 reprinted in Conan: City of the Dead (Cover by Jeffrey Alan Love. Illustrated by Richard Pace), in stores: June 2024! 

We're also getting another completely new sword and sorcery story chock-full of Lovecraftian horrors from John C. Hocking: CONAN AND THE LIVING PLAGUE also in Conan: City of the Dead, in stores: June 2024!

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