Tuesday, September 18, 2007
The City of Madness
Finally filled a gap in my sword & sorcery knowledge last night by reading The City of Madness, the first story written by Charles Saunders and featuring his hero Imaro. Imaro is, as far as I know, the first African American barbarian hero. (As a headliner anyway. I can think of a couple of books and comics that featured black barbarians as sidekicks earlier on.) The Imaro books originally came out in the early 1980s after I had given up reading fantasy and science fiction for a while, so I missed them the first time around. Nightshade Books has recently reprinted some of the Imaro stories in two trade paperbacks, but I ended up reading City of Madness in its original professional debut in The Years Best Fantasy volume one, edited by Lin Carter. I say professional because Carter had pulled the story from a fanzine called Dark Fantasy.
The basic concept is brilliant. Conan style adventures in a Tarzan style African setting. City of Madness is very fast paced and has a lot of the verve and energy sorely lacking from most of today's fantasy books and indeed from many of the sword & sorcery tales written by Saunders' contemporaries. There's a particularly brutal fight scene between Imaro and a demon.
As a black author, writing about a black character and introducing many elements of African culture and folklore, (though the setting is a fantasy version of Africa) Saunders definitely brings a different tone to the S&S genre. I'll have to read more of the Imaro series to see if the level of storytelling holds up, but I was very impressed with Saunders' and Imaro's debuts.