S.E. Lindberg rating: 5 of 5 stars
Griots: A Sword and Soul Anthology is an aptly named milestone in speculative fiction. Named after African storytellers who relied on the oral tradition (griots), this anthology marks the initial growth of the sub-genre “Sword & Soul.” Charles R. Saunders is credited with starting the sub-genre with his Imaro tale (Imaro Series). Imaro broke the mold of adventure fantasy with Saunders being the primary champion. With Griots: A Sword and Soul Anthology, Milton J. Davis leads a troop of authors to expand the front. Saunders contributes the introduction for this as well as the capping tale. An excerpt reveals the Saunders’s motivation and the original scope of Sword & Soul:
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.
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.
There are 14 varied contributions. A large portion deal with the coming-of-age of the protagonist. Some suffer from too-powerful heroes or overly ambitious scopes (i.e. a few did not feel stand alone, reading as non-identified excerpts or poorly contained plots). My favorites tales were:
Awakening by Valjeanne Jeffers: A coming-of-age tale about a feisty heroine; nice sword & sorcery.
Skin Magic by P. Djeli Clark: a dose of Lovecraftian horror and aesthetic magic make this desert journey very entertaining.
The Belly of The Crocodile by Minister Faust, a vulgar, first-person perspective of a fantastic tale.
The General’s Daughter by Anthony Nana Kawmu: a trip to the Underworld, a warrior goes to save a loved one from death.
The Queen, The Demon, and The Mercenary Ronald Jones’s battling, demonic armies = engrossing sorcery and battle.
The Three-Faced One: Charles R. Saunders’s Imaro tale demonstrates the best storytelling, from its tapping into African history/myth coupled with excellent pacing and gripping style.
More Sword & Soul: Milton J. Davis leads MVMedia which is churning out more Griots (i.e Griots: Sisters of the Spear) and a host of other Sword & Soul media, from Young Adult novels to Video Games! Check out their offerings at the (MVMedia Website and Facebook page for Sword & Soul.
Quibbles: I read the Kindle version which had two outages: (1) Scene breaks were not marked; hence, paragraphs from different scenes that should have had an additional return/space or a marker, instead ran together; this leads to repeated confusion in several stories; (2) There are credits for many artists, but there is no art in the Kindle or even alternate text.
Recommendation: New to Sword & Soul? I recommend reading either version of Charles R. Saunders's Imaro. Then it would be a coin toss continue with either (a) Imaro:2 (The Quest for Cush) or (b) branching out to find like-minded authors with very different styles with Griots: A Sword and Soul Anthology.
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