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Skull-Face by Robert E. Howard







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(2 Reviews)

Book Excerpt

wretches of Yun Shatu's, for regeneration?

And who was this Master? Somehow the word sounded vaguely familiar--I sought laboriously to remember. Yes--I had heard it, lying half-waking in the bunks or on the floor--whispered sibilantly by Yun Shatu or by Hassim or by Yussef Ali, the Moor, muttered in their low-voiced conversations and mingled always with words I could not understand. Was not Yun Shatu, then, master of the Temple of Dreams? I had thought and the other addicts thought that the withered Chinaman held undisputed sway over this drab kingdom and that Hassim and Yussef Ali were his servants. And the four China boys who roasted opium with Yun Shatu and Yar Khan the Afghan and Santiago the Haitian and Ganra Singh, the renegade Sikh--all in the pay of Yun Shatu, we supposed--bound to the opium lord by bonds of gold or fear.

For Yun Shatu was a power in London's Chinatown and I had heard that his tentacles reached across the seas into high places of mighty and mysterious tongs. Was that Yu

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REH's attempt at writing a Fu Manchu, yellow peril adventure (although the title villain is actually Egyptian), is serviceble enough, but Howard was never his best when he tried to imitate his contemporaries. It's a decent if unmemorable read. You can find better REH on this site.
And the usual blah, blah, blah, complaints about racism whenever the villain isn't German.
After his experiences in WWI, Steve Costigan is a shattered man in the slums of London's Chinatown, a slave to his hashish addiction. Out of money and too weak to get any, he is near death when a mysterious woman takes him to the opium den and pays for the drugs he needs. But he finds himself a slave to a worse drug, and to a skull-faced megalomaniac, set on conquering the civilized white world.
The writing is several times better than Sax Rohmer's, and because of that, the milder racism of Howard's story is actually more jarring. Plotting, description, and characterization are all better than most pulp detective stories, but it's full of the opinions of the day that wouldn't fly today.