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My Sword-and-Soul Sister

Sunday, December 20th, 2009 | Posted by Charles Saunders

When you search for my novel, Imaro, on Amazon.com, the “Customers Also Bought” and “Frequently Bought Together” categories on its page include a novel called Wind Follower, by Carole McDonnell.  As you will see, there is good reason for that connection.wind-follower2

When I first became aware of Wind Follower through Amazon, I was so intrigued I bought the book right away.  As I began to read it, I quickly realized that it was, like Imaro and Milton Davis’ Meji novels, part of the sword-and-soul subgenre.  Carole did not know that at the time, as I coined the term “sword-and-soul” to describe African-oriented fantasy fiction only a few years ago.

Actually, a better description of Carole’s debut novel would be soul-and-sword.  It is a literary equivalent of soul music, which combines rhythm-and-blues with a strong measure of the gospel sound.

Like my stories and Milton’s, Wind Follower is set in an alternate version of Africa — one in which spirits are real and magic works, for both good and ill.  However, Carole’s story and setting are different from just about anything else that has been based on the so-called Dark Continent, going all the way back to the “jungle stories” of pulp-fiction times.

Indeed, it stands to reason that once the “jungle stories” template is broken, different writers can conjure a variety of other-world versions of Africa.  Look at the hundreds of re-tellings of a single European legend: the Saga of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.

Africa is a place of numerous cultures, which have spawned a plethora of myths and folktales.  Those source-stories can easily inspire infinite successor tales. Wind Follower is one of those new tales.

Wind Follower is the story of four tribes and two individuals.   The tribes that inhabit Carole’s other-Africa include the Theseni, who are dark-skinned indigenes; the Doreni, a brown-skinned people who conquered and now co-exist with the Theseni; the Ibeni; a tan-complexioned trading people who are “sojourners” rather than residents in the land; and the Angleni, pale-skinned intruders who want to make the continent their own.

The two protagonists are Satha, a young Theseni woman; and Loic, a prince of the Doreni.  When Loic marries Satha on impulse, events are set into motion that have profound and lasting effects on the Land of Four Tribes.carole-mcdonnell

Wind Follower works on multiple levels, all of which are woven together by Carole’s deft narrative skills.

It’s a love story, and you would be hard-pressed to find a pair of lovers more star-crossed than Loic and Satha.

It’s a tale of betrayal and brutality.  Carole’s action scenes are fast-moving and powerful, and some of the punishments inflicted among the tribes are cruel to the max.

It’s a chronicle of clashing religions and politics.  Carole describes the intrigues and machinations of the Four Tribes in a way that puts her in a class with R.Scott Bakker and Joe Abercrombie.

It’s a story of the unexpected and unfortunate consequences of overweening ambition — a vivid illustration of the old saying, “Be careful what you wish for.”

It’s an allegory of racism, slavery and colonialism as they occurred not only in Africa, but also in the Americas.

And it’s a Christian allegory as well, although not as obvious in that regard as, for example, C.S. Lewis’ Narnia novels.

Although Carole writes from a religious perspective, she doesn’t hit the reader over the head with it.  If you had never heard of the Bible, you would still enjoy Wind Follower.  If you are aware of the basic elements of Christianity, you will appreciate Carole’s nuances, whether or not you are a believer.

Told from the alternating viewpoints of Satha and Loic, Wind Follower is a sweeping yet detailed epic that fits into a single volume.  It is a powerful novel, and has elicited stark reactions, both positive and negative.  Count this as a positive reaction — and a strong recommendation.

On a personal note, although Carole and I have known each other only a couple of years, we both knew the late Gene Day, who published my first Imaro story in his Dark Fantasy magazine back in 1974.  As it turns out, Carole’s husband worked for Marvel Comics during Gene’s stint as an artist for that company.  Both Carole and her husband knew him well.

Wind Follower is available at Amazon.com and other Internet booksellers.

1 Comment »

  1. Thanks for this review. I’m glad I’m a facebook friend of hers – so I can keep up with all the latest! Lyn

    Comment by resaliens - December 22, 2009 10:52 pm


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