By Charles Saunders
The second volume of Imaro’s adventures picks up where the first left off. If you aren’t familiar with Imaro, here’s his story thus far. It takes place in Nyumbani, a fantasy version of Africa. Imaro is from the Ilyassi, a fierce warrior tribe of the plains. But he is an outcast because his father was an unknown man from another tribe. Hounded by evil sorcerers who serve demonic entities, Imaro becomes an exile and a leader of bandits. The Quest for Cush begins in medias res, with Imaro in hot pursuit of the outlaw who has stolen his beloved Tanisha.
Along the way Imaro makes a friend in Pomphis the Bambuti. Pomphis is a Pygmy who has lived in the cities of Nyumbani and is more or less a walking encyclopedia of Nyumbani lore. Imaro, Tanisha, and Pomphis must make their way to Cush. There Imaro hopes to learn who his father is, what has happened to his mother, and just what his destiny is. Imaro does have a destiny, he must oppose the Mashataan. These are demons who once conquered Nyumbani but were expelled. They are plotting a comeback and know that somehow Imaro stands in their way.
The plot of a hero with a destiny is a pretty standard one. What gives the Imaro stories a special touch is Saunders’ rather unsentimental take on the whole thing. Imaro is not a knight in shining armor, he’s a hard-as-nails outlaw with a grudge against evil wizards. Pomphis and Tanisha serve to soften Imaro, but not much. Nor is Nyumbani a romanticized version of an Africa inhabited solely by wise elders and respectful children. It’s a land with cruel customs, learned scholars, sleazy traders, brutal thugs, compassionate healers, and dire magic. In short, it’s a well-rounded place, not just a two-dimensional backdrop for sword-fights.
Saunders also has a barbed wit. The opening story is a dead-on parody of traditional “lost-race” stories that will make you smile and wince at the same time. The tale of how the Mashataans used the people of Atlan, and how the people of Atlan used the Nyumbanis is razor-sharp Sword & Sorcery myth straight from the real world.
The Quest for Cush is a very worthy successor to the first volume. I’m looking forward to reading the rest.