The rest of the story is pretty weak, too, by my lights, with only a few points of favor. The notion of a cheap inn where people check in but they don't check out is interesting, but instead of using it as a straight revenge piece, Howard has Conan [SPOILER ALERT] escape through the outer door, which somehow doesn't lock from the outside the way the door to the rest of the inn does, and then happen to run into a naked woman, who just happens to be the princess of the city in disguise (though it's hard to imagine her incognito in that getup). Howard spends a while having Conan (and us) leer at her unclothed situation, the Cimmerian uttering such dopey blandishments as "Beauty like yours might drive a man mad," as he gropes her.
In addition to being politically incorrect, the presence of the Darfur slaves raises another question: What municipal authority would allow part of its population to wander around at night eating the taxpayers? Especially slaves. Slavery meant keeping a tight rein on the slaves, end stop. I read Frederick Douglass's first memoir, where slaveholders broke up a gathering of slaves who were trying to learn how to read. Here in Zamboula, we're asked to believe that the authorities don't "clean out these black dogs" (to use Conan's colorful term) because they are afraid there might be unrest.
"They are valuable slaves," murmured the girl. "There are so many of them they might revolt if they were denied the flesh for which they lust. The people of Zamboula know they skulk the streets at night, and all are careful to remain within locked doors, except when something unforseen happens, as it did to me. The blacks prey on anything they can catch, but they seldom catch anybody but strangers. The people of Zamboula are not concerned with the strangers that pass through the city."
If you can't walk the streets of your town without fear of being someone's bedtime snack, I'd say you have something less than "valuable slaves" on your hands.
Even the visit to the temple was weak. The reason for Conan going there, and risking his life, is "Zabibi's" beauty. He is so impelled by this that he can't think of anything else. Conan's libido has come into play before, but not so pronouncedly. He's not this much of a horndog, to wander aimlessly inside a darkened temple on the off-chance a wizard may be persuaded to give this woman an antidote to her lover's madness.
I did like some things about it, like the confrontation between Conan and Baal-pteor. Conan is still stuck with some groaner lines ("Blast your soul!"), and the mesmerism thing goes on a bit long, but the choke-off is pretty good. Like Conan's parting taunt especially: "Did you deem yourself strong, because you were able to twist the heads off civilized folk, poor weaklings with muscles like rotten string?"
The ending is also good, really good, good enough to remind me that this is Howard we are talking about. He winds up the cannibal angle about as well as can be expected, then really does well with the Zabibi arc. She stands Conan up, but you can respect her position, and better yet, share a laugh with the Cimmerian as he rides off.
What a shame the rest of the tale wasn't up to the standard set by "Shadows Of Zamboula's" conclusion. Anyway, I'd love to hear from others with similar or different takes. Is this indeed Conan's worst story, or do I need to read "Vale Of Lost Women"?