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.


cliff said...

Actually, wouldn't he be an African hero rather than an African American hero?

Charles R. Rutledge said...

heh! You're exactly right.