A trained lion, secret treasure, a land ruled by ape creatures, an evil double and the hottest priestess Opar ever had adds up to another adventure for the Lord of the Jungle.
Returning to his home after rescuing his beloved Jane from the land of Pal-ul-Don (at the end of Tarzan the Terrible), Tarzan and his family find a lion cub that has just lost it's mother. Deciding to take pity on the cub, Tarzan adopts him and raises the lion-named Jad-bal-Ja as both a loyal pet and a fierce protector. After a few years through, the family finances have been strained due to rebuilding his African bungalow and helping the war effort and Tarzan decides it's time for another trip to Opar to get more gold. But another party has their sights on Opar as well. Headed by a former maid of the Greystokes-Flora Hawkes-the party has hired an actor named Esteban Miranda to impersonate Tarzan and help convince the natives to help them. But when the real Tarzan shows up they manage to knock him out thanks to some drugged coffee and leave him to be sacrificed to the Priests of Opar, now lead by Cadj. But La the High Priestess, still carrying a lust for Tarzan, helps him escape into a land known as the Palace of Diamonds where both discover it is ruled over by talking apes called the Bolgani. With no escape looking possible, Tarzan has to figure out a way to rescue La and return home. Jad-bal-Ja eventually shows up to help save the day but Tarzan's job isn't done yet as he still has to deal with the gold stealing Miranda and find a missing Jane before she makes a big mistake.
After reading and enjoying Tarzan's Quest, I decided to pick up another book in the series and give it a go. Published in 1922-23, Tarzan and the Golden Lion has the standard lost civilizations, backstabbing gold diggers, natives both noble-the Waziri and their leader Muviro-and savage, and the usual damsels in distress-in this case three of them. With all of this going on the narrative becomes overcrowded with the reader tossed between Tarzan and his attempts to escape the Palace of Diamonds, the distrust and betrayals of the greedy safari and in the latter sections Jane's confusion of Miranda for her husband and her capture by a native who has other plans for Lady Greystoke. Also underused is Jad-bal-Ja himself, who despite his build up is missing from most of the novel until he arrives in a deux ex machina moment to save Tarzan and La. The High Priestess also gets short service as she's more subdued in this entry-no attempts at seduction even though she still orders men around like the queen she is.
That being said, Tarzan and the Golden Lion does have its strengths. The novel may be a jumble of plots but Burroughs keeps it moving with a sure hand, compared to some of the later books where you could tell he was himself getting bored by his creation. Tarzan is also at his best here. In the latter books he was a carefree adventurer who had little care for others it seemed. Here he risks life and limb to find and rescue Jane and to restore La to her throne which shows how much he cares and wants to keep those human connections. Not to mention the fact that he can still kick a Bolgani's hairy butt and strike terror into the hearts of the bad guys-two conditions you want from a jungle hero. Plus the idea of Miranda almost becoming convinced he is Tarzan is a good spoof of Method actors taking their roles too far (even if the novel came before the Method style).
In the end this entry doesn't win points for originality but compared to what came later is still a fun read for Tarzan fans. Rating: *** out of 4.