Imaro: The Trail of Bohu
Charles R. Saunders
Sword & Soul Media (217 pages, $20.00, January 2009)
Fans of Sword & Sorcery and Heroic Fantasy had reason to rejoice as 2009 kicked-off with a big release from one of the genre’s master storytellers. No, it wasn’t a new Elric novel, nor a previously undiscovered Fafhrd and Gray Mouser short. And not a book by one of those other famous names, Howard, Vance, Gemmell, or Wagner, either. It was Imaro: The Trail of Bohu, the third in the Imaro series, by the best fantasy author you’ve never heard of.
Of course, many of Black Gate’s readers have heard of and are fans of Charles R. Saunders, but the world at large has been slow to catch up. The perilous journey of the Imaro series into and out of print has been related elsewhere, but finally it seems things have gotten on the right track and this previously unfinished series will at last be in the hands of fans everywhere, thanks to new imprint Sword & Soul media.
Imaro: The Trail of Bohu continues the saga of the outcast warrior Imaro in the land of Nyumbani; a rich fantasy setting based on African history and myth. But, while the first two books in the series, Imaro and Imaro: The Quest for Cush, were essentially episodic in structure (constructed as they were of Saunders’ short stories), The Trail of Bohu, the first Imaro book written as a novel from start to finish, presents us with a bigger overall story — it is, in fact, the beginning of the arc that will carry the reader through books four and five and, let’s just say, things really start to get going in this installment of the Imaro saga.
The book begins some five years after the events in The Quest for Cush, with Imaro more or less settled into a simple life as a swordsmith in Cush — though this simple smith is also universally famed for his prowess in the local games. He and Tanisha have a young son, Kilewo, a boy who is tutored by Imaro’s old friend, the Bambuti pygmy Pomphis. Imao himself is content, but also restless in this new civilized mold, feeling a bit like a lion in a cage. But he is soon catapulted back into action in an unexpected and tragic turn of events that finds him reviled in his new adopted land, grimly withdrawn and distrustful of even his closest friends, and on the trail of a dangerous foe every bit his match known only as ‘Bohu,’ the Disruptor, the Bringer of Sorrow.
Bohu is a powerful servant of the Erriten of Naama, the group of evil sorcerers that have thwarted Imaro throughout the series. Unseen, malicious, Bohu travels the lands of Nyumbani sowing dissension and destruction, planting rumors that lead to war or rebellion, using the dark magic of mchawi to summon plagues of deadly creatures or subvert whole towns. It is the opening move in the war for Nyumbani, and Imaro and his companions travel through these lands gone mad in their search for the man who has destroyed Imaro’s peace.
Pomphis and Rabir, captain of the Epesi Nyuni, accompany Imaro in his quest, and he meets new allies in his journey through the chaotic East Nyumbani landscape. Fans of Saunders know how he can craft an air of authenticity with a few deft words, and his descriptions of the many cultures and civilizations Imaro and his friends encounter are vibrant with a sense of place. So too, the weird tale aspect of this story is executed with a master’s touch — the strange and horrible maladies inflicted by Bohu on the people of the coast are deliciously in the Lovecraftian and Howardian vein, real sword & sorcery stuff.
With an apocalyptic war on the horizon — the Kandissa of Cush assembles a coalition of northern peoples to make war upon Naama at the same time Imaro fights his way along the trail of Bohu — Imaro discovers that his role is not merely to seek personal revenge. Deep in the mysterious land of the Amanyani he discovers new and powerful allies, and also makes an unexpected discovery about himself. By the book’s end he has developed further as a character than was ever seen in the previous volumes achieving at last, if not a sense of peace, one of connection and purpose. Imao is no longer alone in the world.
Imaro: The Trail of Bohu is the rising action that sets us up for the climax of the series and, thankfully, we will all now be able to read the concluding volumes to the series when they are released by Sword & Soul. I for one cannot wait, and I’m not alone in placing this series squarely alongside the great classics of the genre — it is simply that good. With superb pacing, engrossing setting, a mastery of the conventions of the genre combined with a fresh and novel approach, and an iconic character worthy to rub shoulders with the likes of Conan, Elric, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, and Kane, Imaro is a series that must not be missed.
Imaro: The Trail of Bohu is available by clicking on this link.
BILL WARD is a genre writer, editor, and blogger wanted across the Outer Colonies for crimes against the written word. His fiction has appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies, as well as gaming supplements and websites. He is a Contributing Editor and reviewer for Black Gate Magazine, and 423rd in line for the throne of Lost Lemuria. Read more at BILL’s blog, DEEP DOWN GENRE HOUND.