S.E. Lindberg rating: 5 of 5 stars
Quality Adventure with Legendary Context
Style & Legendary Motivations
This unique blend of Lovecraft & African mythology features a Conan-like hero. It’s pulpy style & storytelling may merit 4 stars: its uniqueness & place in literature boost it to 5.
Imaro is adventure in the vein of vintage, pulp periodicals. Expect heavy doses of sorcery & horror at a brisk pace. Unlike traditional pulp stories, these chapters are slightly less-episodic and more-chronological. In other words, Imaro is more of a continuing character versus Howard’s original Conan publications. Adventure tropes that could be called “cheesy” are compensated well with engrossing, visceral battle scenes and bestial sorcery. In fact, I was reminded of James Silke Frazetta’s Death Dealer series and thought Charles R. Saunders was much more effective at a milieu including jungle/savannah beasts. Saunders’ Imaro felt more Frazetta-like than Gath in Prisoner of the Horned Helmet or Tooth and Claw.
An excerpt from Saunders’s Into to Milton Davis’s Griots: A Sword and Soul Anthology best reveals the author’s passion:
Robert E. Howard and his contemporaries were products of their time. Racism, in the form of white supremacy, was an integral part of the popular culture of the early decades of the twentieth century, and as such it pervaded pulp fiction. As a product of a later time during which the tenets of racism came under vigorous challenge, my enjoyment of fiction from past decades was often compromised by the racial attitudes I encountered in my reading. On some occasions, I simply let it slide. On others, I wrestled with resentment. Then I discovered a way to resolve my dilemma.Saunders executed his dream very well, uniquely adding to adventure literature & steering how African mythology is conveyed with entertaining fiction. He coined the term “Sword & Soul” and effectively started a new subgenre. Wow! I would argue that he was so effective at writing that he depicted an almost darker Nyumbani continent (i.e. Africa), albeit one based more on history & substance rather than racism. Saunders’ sensitivity toward enslavement and genocide motivated him to replace his longest chapter (Book 3: Slaves of the Giant Kings) when Nightshade printed the second edition.
Interest in African history and culture surged during the 1960s, and at the same time I was reading sword-and-sorcery and fantasy fiction, I was also absorbing heretofore-unknown information about a continent that was not “dark” as its detractors made it out to be. I realized that this non-stereotypical Africa of history and legend was just as valid a setting for fantasy stories as was the ancient and medieval Europe that served as the common default setting for everything from Conan to Lord of the Rings. A character came into my head then: Imaro, a black man who could stand alongside mythical warrior-heroes like Beowulf and Hercules, as well as fictional creations such as Conan and Kull.
I tracked down this copy too and really liked how Saunder's revisted his past work and made it stronger. The Afua chapter in particular seemed more consistent with Imaro's development as an outcast and his conflict with evil forces...and the writing seemed less forced (especially with Tanisha's introduction). The candid remarks from Saunders and Syzumskyj (a loyal fan who urged him to revist Imaro) added value. In short, despite the first edition being a good-read, I would recommend future readers to grab the Nightshade Version if given the option (since it is even better).
1981 Imaro Edition Contents:
• Book 1: Turkhana Knives
• Book 2: The Place of Stones
• Book 3: Slaves Of The Giant Kings (replaced with “The Afua” in the 2006 edition)
• Book 4: Horror in the Black Hills (Cover for 1986 based from this chapter)
• Book 5: The City of Madness (this is not in the 2006 edition of “Imaro-1” from Nightshade…but does appear in the first chapter in Nightshades’ “Imaro-2” renamed Mji Ya Wzimu its original title in from a 1974 publication in Dark Fantasy...actually, the Nightshade edition offers a different chapter in its place called Betrayal in Blood.)
Through these five chapters, Imaro evolves from being a fatherless, abandoned child (desiring to belong to a community)… into a vengeful, tribe-less Hercules-like figure (set on destroying evil forces). An excerpt captures his presence best:
The Illyassai was a fearsome sight. His dark skin glistened sweat-slick through garments that hung in skimpy tatters from his massive frame. Crimson-crusted wounds scored his body like glyphs inscribed by devils. Dried blood matted his wooly hair. His face was hardened into an implacable mask of hatred. Unrequited vengeance flickered like a torch In his eyes, yet beneath the lamina of that emotion lay a core of grief so bitter it threatened to consume him entirely…Imaro vs. Lovecraftian “Mashataan” Sorcery:
Each story compounds the conflict of Imaro versus the being Mashatann, whose minions or followers assume mythological status:
Elephantine legs rose like wrinkled trees from the ground, Long bony arms hung like sticks from a pair of, knobby shoulders. The hands were incongruously delicate and graceful. Other than his head, those hands were the only remotely human features [spoiler’s name] had left…Cover:
…Upon the dais hunched a bizarre image sculpted from pitted, gray-green stone. From the waist up, the creature the sculpture depicted resembled Ngai the gorilla, although its skin was hairless and its wide mouth bore fangs even longer than those of the red panther Imaro had slain. It was the lower extremities of the unknown beast’s body that marked it as something alien to the world of natural beings. Its legs were the hindquarters of Mboa the buffalo: thick, muscular haunches tapering to sharp, lethal hooves.
The 1981 cover by Ken Kelly captured the tone, but seems to have some glaring disconnects: the cover depicts Book Four Horror in the Hills, but has a hero that appears non-African and the creature approximates the primary antagonist...but is of the incorrect gender. The NightShade’s edition of Imaro-1, has a beautiful illustration by Vince Evans, but given the color-palette & the lack of magic & creatures, appears to showcase a Historical-Fiction novel rather than Fantasy-Fiction. Perhaps some of those design features were intentional marketing concepts.
Finding A Copy:
The series Imaro continues with 3 more books: Imaro 2 : The Quest for Cush, The Trail of Bohu, Imaro: The Naama War, available from Lulu.com. Mshindo Kuumba has emerged as Saunder’s go-to artist for these. Click here to go to Saunders’ website to locate books: Where to purchase new Saunders books
Although the first two Imaro books from DAW were reprinted in ~2006 by Nightshade, they are difficult to find now (2013). Used bookstores are your best bet. Ebooks are being developed according to a very credible source, that being virtual-brother-to-Saunders, Milton Davis, who edited Griots: A Sword and Soul Anthology, the foundational Sword & Soul anthology). He recently commented on the Sword & Sorcery Group on Goodreads - LINK
Milton Davis: Charles's current publisher is working on e-book versions of the Imaro books. There's a new Imaro story in Griots and a new Dossouye story in the upcoming Griots: Sisters of the Spear anthology. And to top it all off, I plan to publish the first book (or two) in a new series by him entitled 'Abengoni.
Sword & Soul is highly recommended to fantasy-fiction readers!
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