Black Fantasy Month: Imaro by Charles R. Saunders.

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( Charles R. Saunder’s Imaro is a book I’ve been waiting to write about. The first in the Imaro series, it is a landmark in Black sci-fi and fantasy as well as the start of the sword and soul genre of fantasy. Yes, the book is just that important but it tends to get overlooked when discussing fantasy books if folks don’t follow Black authors in the genre.

An Inspiration To Others In The Genre

That’s not surprising though. Saunders is an author who has been around since the early 1970s. When the bug for fantasy and sci-fi hits you, you begin the process of world building. Who knows, you might actually get around to doing stories and the like with this world you created.

This was the case with Charles R. Saunders who took what he enjoyed in sci-fi and fantasy and African folklore as inspiration. The result was the land of Nyumbani, a continent similar to Africa in beasts and landscapes. This is where many of his sword and soul stories would take place, particularly Imaro—a series that inspired two of my personal favorites Balogun Ojetade and Milton Davis.

Sword and Soul

Before getting into Imaro, it’s important know what is sword and soul. Essentially, it’s an Afro-centric version of sword and sorcery. Series such as Karl Edward Wagner’s Kane, Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, Michael Moorcock’s Elric of Melnibone and The Eternal Champion, and most notably Robert L. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian and Kull are prime examples of the sword and sorcery genre.

As a matter of fact, they’re basically on the Mount Rushmore of Sword and Sorcery. It is often grim, fast-paced, and has more of an emphasis on action and adventure than on world building, romance, and drama. All of those features are there but the emphasis varies.

Sword and sorcery is the direct counter to epic fantasy as magic is often treated as a curiosity or taboo as opposed to magic just being an everyday thing and accepted. Heroes and heroines in sword and sorcery are often both very physical but also intelligent.

While there may be a resistance or disdain for magic, they usually come to understand it and many end up wielding it themselves to some degree. Another thing is that sword and sorcery takes heavily from heroic folklore. Every ancient belief system predating organized religion has that heroic tale. Beowulf, the Labors of Hercales, Jason and the Argonauts, Gilgamesh, and so on.

Sword and soul embody all of this about sword and sorcery only with heavy African folklore inspiration.


What I love about Imaro is how details about the world are folded in gradually as we experience things through Imaro’s life. He’s considered a cursed child but is stronger than the other children in the village he lives in after he and his mother are banished from it.

You’d think this would a given that the story should progress like this and things would be explained as the main character views it, but no. Everyone has their own approach to writing and too often you end up with characters being over-explained. Especially characters who are going to be killed.

Imaro is faced with tragedy after tragedy in the book but each experience makes him stronger. It also hardens his resolve and his approach to others when he comes in contact with them. One of the most interesting parts of the first book is when he leaves the lands his tribe—the Ilyassai—calls home, he is confronted with strange new terrain and animals he didn’t see on the savannah.

He makes his way through it and runs into a new tribe who are fishermen by nature. It takes a while but he sorts out the language and is welcomed among them. The buildup that right after experiencing the death of his love and turning his back on the tribe that shunned him was great.

Saunders’ pace made it so that it didn’t take a lot of time but in a way where you’re aware that time has passed.

Imaro is available on Amazon but only the first book is available on Kindle. If you have Audible, the first book as well as others in the series are also available.

Staff Writer; M. Swift

This talented writer is also a podcast host, and comic book fan who loves all things old school. One may also find him on Twitter at; metalswift.