13 September 2010

Book review: Imaro: The Naama War

Imaro: The Naama War
Charles R. Saunders (Sword & Soul Media, 2009)

Here we have the long-awaited fourth volume in the “Imaro” series of sword-and-sorcery novels set in a fictional fantasy Africa. Imaro: The Naama War brings to a conclusion the many character arcs and plotlines that have built through Imaro (1981; revised 2006), Imaro 2: The Quest for Cush (1984; revised 2008), and Imaro: The Trail of Bohu (1985; revised 2009). The third book (the first written specifically as a novel instead of a collection of novellas and short stories) moves the tale of the Ilyassai warrior Imaro into the territory of the grand epic, threatening to plunge all of the continent of Nyumbani into a battle between the gods and the kingdoms they support, with Imaro as the fulcrum point. The novels ends on a cliffhanger, with the war about erupt.

Now at last we have that great battle of gods and men, which Saunders started writing back in 1983. And it’s Epic. Big Capital “E” Epic. Charles R. Saunders more than rewards readers’ twenty-five years of patience with the single best installment in the saga of Imaro. This is sword-and-sorcery beauty, with all its bloody rage, bizarre magic, pounding battles, horrific monsters, and intense emotion. It is one of the best fantasy novels I have read over the past five years—and I’m actually glad I came late to reading the Imaro stories, because it means I didn’t have to wait so long to read the last and the best.

Imaro: The Naama War is the sort of fantasy trip I love to take, and I’ll admit that I felt an enormous rush of emotion and nearly came to tears during the thirty page wrap-up, where Saunders refuses to let the reader go from the passion of the story and the characters’ dramatic journeys. The escalation from the beginning to the unexpected conclusion is pitch-perfect. It is almost a textbook for how to build suspense and keep readers reeling with surprises while also maintaining their belief in the story’s inner truth.

So, yeah, this is kind of a good book.

Read the rest at Black Gate. . . .