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Conan: City of the Dead review

Omnibus by John C. Hocking

Dedicated to lovers of sword-and-sorcery and especially fans who waited for the Living Plague for so long

Cover by Jeffrey Alan Love 

Illustrations by Richard Pace

From Titan Books and Heroic Signatures

Also available unabridged on audiobook read by Bradford Hastings

Spoilers! Spoilers! 


Stygian mage Ethram-Fal aka the Shemite Eldred the Trader, resurrects the dormant immortal resident of the abandoned Palace of Cetriss (one of the world's mightiest sorcerers), a hybrid of plant and predatory fungus with an insatiable appetite for blood with the blood of his insolent apprentice (freshly executed by Captain Ath, also a Stygian who is given an addictive reddish leaf as a reward).

The carnivorous plant's seeds are the sole source of the Emerald Lotus, an addictive green powder that enhances the abilities of sorcerers. The only side effects are growing cravings, madness and death. 

Akkharia in Shem, ruled by King Sumuabi.  Mercenary of 25 years Shamtare the Shemite espies Conan in a tavern. Conan is wearing an old chainmail shirt and black cotton breeches. Shamtare wants Conan to join his troop of mercenaries, Mamluke's Legion. He promises Conan a shirt of Akbitanan mail.

Wizard Shakar the Keshanian wants the great thief Conan to kill the cash-strapped sorceress Lady Zelandra (who just like him desires to be Sumuabi's new court mage) and steal her silver box full of Emerald Lotus powder, similar to the one he already possesses.

Conan not being an assassin refuses even for a roomful of gold. 
Shakar threatens to expose Conan as the wanted pirate Amra.
Conan cuts 2 fingers off Shakar's bodyguard (Gulbanda of Shem) and is knocked out by a Keshanian glass ball filled with a distillate of Black Lotus.

Shamtare is now drinking in a different tavern frequented by those riding for Atlach the Mace.
Shamtare is ashamed that he ducked out on Conan. But sorcery terrifies him since he saw a Zuagir shaman kill half of his soldiers.
A Kushite mercenary of Atlach recommends he leaves.
Shamtare returns to his first haunt but finds Conan gone. The barkeep offers him Ghaza wine. Shamtare will reappear in The Living Plague.

Conan wakes bolted to a steel chair. Gulbanda tortures Conan with a dagger and Shakar puts a magical amulet (a collar bomb) around Conan's neck.

Conan enters Zelandra's mansion, he spots Vendhyan tapestries on the walls, a vase of Khitan porcelain.
Conan is imprisoned by Heng Shih (a giant mute Khitan) and Neesa (a dagger-throwing scribe and bodyguard to Zelandra).

Eldred the Trader visits via sorcerous projection Shakar and Zelandra.
He's beta testing his green powder on both of them.  Eldred wants the wizards of Stygia to be slaves to his magic intensifying powder and to share his power with Zelandra. She refuses the offer.
Conan notices that the projection is emanating from the Dragon's Spine peaks in eastern Stygia, close to the dead city of Pteion.
Zelandra removes Conan's amulet.

Zelandra chats with Sabatean sorceress Mithrelle. Zelandra learns that the evil wizard Ethram-Fal was born in Kheshatta (city of magicians in southern Stygia) and that like a Pictish druid, he has mastery over plants and fungi.

Mage Shakar is dying from his addiction.
Gulbanda is given Brythunian apple wine, Shakar kills his bodyguard and turns him into a zombie. Gulbanda's mission: to kill Conan and Zelandra and to get her cask of Emerald Lotus back to Shakar. 

The Palace of the mage Cetriss, seeker of immortality, creator of the Emerald Lotus.
The statue of a faceless black Sphinx sits in its temple/room. 
Ethram-Fal has 20 men-at-arms addicted to his red Vendhyan kaokao plant leaves.
Captain Ath and Ethram-Fal notice that their vampiric fungus is dying, it needs nourishment, they give it a freshly killed pony and it begins blooming green flowers.

Zelandra needs more powder than she currently possesses to safely purge herself from the drug. 

Out of powder, unable to cope with the pangs any longer, Shakar kills himself.

Conan and friends arrive at Aswana, sell their horses to Nephtah, Conan sleeps with Neesa, they cross the Styx with unofficial ferryman Temoten the Shemite and reach Bel-Phar.
Our heroes kill 6 nosy Stygian soldiers of the border patrol and abscond with their camels.

Ethram-Fal and captain Ath get water from Sibu's oasis. Ethram-Fal plants an overgrown seed in the oasis.

At the palace, Teh-Harpa sees two shining eyes in the night and Phandoros hears a voice speaking.

Pesouris (the sole ferryman authorized by King Ctesphon of Stygia) helps zombie Gulbanda get to Bel-Phar, crocodiles follow them the whole way.

12 bandits including Stygian Neb-Khot, T'Cura the Darfari & Shemite Telmesh attack our heroes. Zelandra conjures up a magical flame-wall. Our heroes kill 9 bandits.

Neb-Khot, T'Cura and Shemite Nath survive... only to be massacred by zombie Gulbanda.

Conan and the gang tangle with a soul eating heat demon masquerading as an oasis, Conan pushes the guardian demon back into its well, caps it and Zelandra fuses it with sorcery.

Soldier Dakent is found with his heart missing in the Sphinx's room.

Our heroes arrive at Sibu's oasis and eliminate Ethram-Fal's prickly plant monster that was waiting for them. 

The great Sphinx appears in Ethram-Fal's dream demanding a Tribute/Sacrifice.
They capture the intruder, it's the immortal Cetriss himself, now a ghoul enslaved to the sphinx statue.
Ethram-Fal crushes Cetriss with his magic and offers him as a Sacrifice.

Our heroes reach the canyon that leads to the Palace of Cetriss, Gulbanda attacks Conan, Gulbanda breaks his spine on a boulder, Conan pins Gulbanda's severed left hand to the ground and beheads the zombie.

Heng Shih and Conan return to camp and find 2 dead Stygian mercenaries (including Teh-Harpa) and the women missing.
Heng Shih and Conan brave a sandstorm and furtively enter the palace.

Conan finds Ethram-Fal's laboratory/greenhouse and steals the wizard's private stock of Emerald powder. Heng Shih and Conan enter the chamber of the Emerald Lotus via its ring-like balcony. Soldiers attack in single file, most get killed and hurled towards the gluttonous Lotus below. 
Conan gets a seeping scalp wound that gives him the 1982 camouflaged Schwarzenegger look.

The Emerald Lotus grows and so does its appetite, it escapes its prison. 
Conan kills Captain Ath. The Emerald Lotus eats Ethram-Fal. Our heroes exit the palace and Conan incinerates the Lotus. 
Conan gives his stolen powder to Zelandra.

Spoilers! Spoilers! 


King Sumuabi of Akkharia commands Tolbeth-Khar to create a defensive weapon, a crystal vial filled with pestilence liquid... but atop the Palace of Dulcine in the stained glass domed Chamber of Conjuring, the old wizard's ceremony goes wrong.

Inadvertently a plague-demon is created, a sentient incarnation of the plague, it materializes as a naked, hairless amber skinned man and like the T-1000 it imitates Tolbeth-Khar's outfit and kills him.

Adrastus the Kothian (Tolbeth-Khar's student) escapes Dulcine on horseback.

Shamtare and Conan are mercenaries part of Mamluke's Legion.
Conan is still angry that Shamtare left him alone with Shakar (in The Emerald Lotus).

Lord Eannus, brother to Sumuabi, wants to be king, for that he'll need to pillage the treasure vaults of Dulcine, he gives this task to the wizard Adrastus and his son Prince Eoreck. Only new recruits are selected for this expedition: 

- Conan
- Pezur, a young Shemite archer
- Balthano, an Argossean convicted for Patricide, Adrastus's new bodyguard with the magical belt that makes him stronger/faster  
- Orbash, the Shemite with the emerald earrings and Vanir dagger
- Shullar, Eoreck's bodyguard, the always fully armoured Asshuri of Shumir
- Shamtare, the veteran comes along... but only because he's unintentionally in the know

Conan mentions that the baron of Dulcine wears the largest diamond in the world around his neck.
The plague-demon mimics a black cloak edged with cloth of gold onto itself. The demon with the touch of death, new to flesh, becomes aware that killing feeds him, makes him stronger and that the whole world can fill his hunger. It sees a raven and mimics its wings.

Conan gives his Bamula armband (from The Vale of Lost Women) to young Pezur.

Conan and his fellows are attacked by the Gray Legion of Palanthar out of Eruk (city-state of Shem). They drive General Gilhane's soldiers back into the forest. Conan is promoted captain.

They stop at a mill where a woman is bathing in a pond. Pezur gives her his cloak to cover up, he immediately falls in love with her, Conan stops Balthano from killing the woman.

They arrive at the walled city of Dulcine, but the Eruki army is already there.

Conan and his comrades take the subterranean passage to Dulcine to slip beneath the army of Eruk. Underground in the catacombs they are attacked by tomb-dwellers/ghouls. 

Shamtare mentions that he would like to buy Fasn'lar's Red Hand tavern.

Conan encounters a statuette of Gol-goroth (from The Gods of Bal-Sagoth) with severed plague-infected human hands stacked before it. Our heroes put on their face masks and exit the passage. 

Now within the walls of the doomed city of Dulcine, Orbash is attacked by an infected (but partially immune) Botah-Aton (the Stygian cemetery groundskeeper), Orbash kills the plague-lich, but the touch of a plague victim being fatal he also dies. 

Conan and Co discover a gigantic funeral pyre, all the bodies are missing their heads.
Conan notices gold coins next to the bottomless fresh water fountain.

More than 20 plague-liches and the infected captain of the baron's personal guard bust out of the palace stables.

Conan, young Pezur, Prince Eoreck and veteran Shamtare flee into a lamp-maker's shop, Conan makes it explode and they go hide out in a walled mansion. 

The plague-liches are dumping all the valuables of Dulcine into the fountain to appease the plague-demon.

Wizard Adrastus, Balthano and Shullar flee into a tavern. Bodyguard Shullar wants to look for his Prince, Adrastus kills Shullar with his flying blade crystals.

Adrastus secretly dreams of controlling the plague-demon. Adrastus and Balthano enter the palace.

Conan goes to a blacksmith's shop and makes himself a weapon: an oversized heavy leather blackjack bludgeon.

Plague-liches and the captain of the baron's personal guard bust out of the stables once again. The gigantic armoured captain tries to kill Conan with his spiked mace and dagger, Conan sends the captain and his blackjack down the bottomless fountain.

Conan, Pezur, Eoreck and Shamtare also enter the palace and bolt themselves in. The plague-liches seal our heroes in by nailing the doors shut. 

Conan finds the treasure vaults EMPTY, only Khitan porcelain remain!
Conan discovers the baron's shrivelled corpse and purloins his diamond.

Mage Adrastus is in the Chamber of Conjuring trying to bind the plague-demon to his will. Eoreck interrupts the ceremony. They all run for their lives. The plague-demon kills Pezur.

Adrastus with a spell from one of Tolbeth-Khar's books, sorcerously transports the palace into a lost space between worlds where the invulnerable plague-demon (a source of living magic) can be devoured by deities.

Conan and Shamtare find Pezur's body. Shamtare takes Pezur's armlet. 

The plague-demon goes into the Chamber of Conjuring to hide its presence from the outer gods. Adrastus sends his enchanted quartz crystals into the plague-demon, it does nothing.

A gigantic gray-white tentacle snakes into the palace, the tip turns into a woman, it asks for the plague-demon's location and ingests Eoreck.

Conan fights the plague-demon, it cries like a bird, regenerates limbs, sprouts feathered wings, takes off, Conan grabs it, it breaks the glass dome of the magical chamber and gets eaten by a deity (Yog-Sothoth?). A table absorbs Conan's fall.

Adrastus brings the palace back to Earth. 
Adrastus wants the baron's diamond.
Adrastus tries to kill Conan with his flying crystals.
Balthano stabs Shamtare in the sword arm.
Balthano expires as a human shield for Conan.
Adrastus tries to kill Conan, again.
The crystals withdraw from Balthano but get stuck in the table Conan fell on. Conan kills Adrastus.

Shamtare gives Pezur's armband to the woman at the mill. 

Servants Duar and Rald bring Conan to Lord Eannus. 
Eannus desires to erase all traces of his treachery.
Conan kills Eannus with Adrastus's crystals. Conan also kills Duar and Rald.

Back at the Red Hand tavern, Conan gives Shamtare (his damaged arm forcing him to retire) the baron's diamond.

What I did like:

The out-of-print, très expensive Conan & The Emerald Lotus and its never before published chronological follow-up together at last in one beautiful omnibus! 

A nice Hyborian Age map by Francesca Baerald.

Delightful illustrations by friendly Manitoban Richard Pace. Pace not PAIce, No AI generated art here. Richard is a real artist who actually draws.

Robert E. Howard's barbarian depicted by South Carolinian Jeffrey Alan Love. Conan the Barbarian #12 and Conan: Cult of the Obsidian Moon will also feature covers by Jeffrey. 

The weapons that Jeffrey Alan Love created for the dust jacket, reappear enlarged and foil-stamped in metallic blood red on the cover. Nice touch! 

A luxurious looking, sturdy, well constructed, high-quality hardcover. Bravo CPI UK!

If you are a Weird Tales pulp magazine megafan you'll love this book.

Ymir the Frost Giant mentioned.

The Snout in the Dark callback.

Mitra, merciful god of the Hyborians mentioned.

Erlik, god of northern Hyrkania mentioned.

"The Eye of Erlik" from "Conan and the Sword of Skelos" by Andrew J. Offutt mentioned.

Hesharkna Tiara mentioned.

The Heart of the Elephant and Yara's tower in Arenjun from The Tower of the Elephant mentioned.

Amra/Sabatea/"Hawks over Shem" by L. Sprague de Camp callback.

"Black Sphinx of Nebthu" by L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter callback.

Pteor and Priests of Keshia from Jewels of Gwahlur mentioned.

Damballah, serpent god mentioned. If you're a fan of Don Mancini's Chucky franchise, you know D.

Kyros wine mentioned.

Hanuman the ape-god mentioned.

Set, ancient god of chaos mentioned.

Manannán, sea god mentioned.

Acheron from Hour of the Dragon mentioned.

The Black Ring from The Hour of the Dragon mentioned.

Nyarlathotep aka "The Crawling Chaos" by H. P. Lovecraft mentioned.

Derketo, goddess of fertility and lust mentioned.

Ishtar, earth goddess mentioned.

Pteion/The Return of Conan by Björn Nyberg and L. Sprague de Camp callback.

Ashtoreth, goddess of love and death mentioned.

Thoth-Amon and Steel Wings mentioned.

Mordiggian from "The Charnel God" by Clark Ashton Smith mentioned. 

Bel, god of thieves mentioned.

Jullah, god of to the Kushites mentioned.

Yizil, desert ghouls mentioned. 

War goddesses: Morrigan, Macha and Nemain mentioned.

Bubastis from "The Brood of Bubastis" by Robert Bloch mentioned.

Black Seers of Yimsha from The People of the Black Circle homage.

"Conan the Buccaneer" by L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter callback.

Anu from Conan the Barbarian (1970) #10 mentioned. 

Karpashian daggers from "Conan the Invincible" by Robert Jordan homage.

Cemeteries, underground passages and ghouls from "Pickman's Model" by H. P. Lovecraft homage.

Eibon, sorcerer and Skelos of the sorcerous scrolls mentioned.

Adonis, god of beauty and youth mentioned.

Bori, original god of the Hyborians mentioned.

Pied Piper of Hamelin homage (Conan mentions the piper who survived the plague of Kova in Zingara.)

Iod from "The Secret of Kralitz" by Henry Kuttner mentioned.

Yog demon inferior to Set mentioned.

Nine Hells from Dante's Inferno mentioned.

Tsotha-Lanti from The Scarlet Citadel mentioned. 

Arallu, god of death mentioned.

Many-worlds theory mentioned.

Tothra from The Slithering Shadow mentioned.

Cthugha from "The Dweller in Darkness" by August Derleth mentioned.

Wadai from Shadows in Zamboula mentioned.

Dagon and Mother Hydra from "Dagon" and "The Shadow Over Innsmouth" both by H. P. Lovecraft mentioned.

The Hounds of Thandalos from "The Hounds of Tindalos" by Frank Belknap Long mentioned. 

Malgyris from Clark Ashton Smith's Poseidonis cycle mentioned.

What I did not like:

The hieroglyphics regarding the lotus are never deciphered.

Adrastus should have been a sorceress. It would have been more interesting.

Bosk, the Brythunian with the war-hammer is terminated way too soon.

The dust jacket does not glow-in-the-dark!

No reversible book jacket featuring alternative art.

A dust jacket featuring Zelandra and/or Neesa with Conan would have sold much better.

Too few illustrations by Richard Pace. Only 8 in total: 4 for The Emerald Lotus and 4 for The Living Plague.

The actual sequel to The Emerald Lotus, the novella "Conan: Black Starlight" is not included.

John C. Hocking's autobiographical essay from The Savage Sword of Conan #3 (2024) is not included.

Map illustrator Francesca Baerald is not credited. Not cool!

I give it a 9/10.  We get two entertaining Conan tales chock-full of non-stop action and supernatural horror from one of the best pasticheur who ever pastiched! Sword-and-fantasy readers starving for strong female characters, brigands, zombies, ghouls, sorcerers, monsters, demons, duplicity and feats of strength in their Cimmerian odysseys will assuredly be satiated. 

Support John, Richard, Titan Books and Heroic Signatures! Go purchase this officially licensed book and ask your local public library to get it too. It looks incredible, it's a great read and an amazing deal. The back flap mentions that John C. Hocking is now retired... Let's hope that means more exciting Conan stories from him in the future!

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