Following up on the success of his two Meji novels, Milton J. Davis has published a new Sword-and-Soul adventure titled Changa’s Safari. Always innovative, Milton breaks new ground with this novel, with the action and intrigue unfolding within the context of the fourteenth-century mercantile network that included East Africa, Arabia, India and China. As in the tales of Sinbad the Sailor, magic works in the Eastern world of the black merchant-warrior Changa Diop.
Full disclosure before I go on … in only a few years’ time, Milton and I have become very good friends — Sword-and-Soul brothers, in fact. I read Changa’s Safari and the two Meji novels in manuscript, well before the books were published. I was impressed to the point where I volunteered to write introductions to Changa’s Safari and Meji Book I (Linda Addison wrote the introduction to Meji Book II. Also, Milton and I have co-edited Griots, a Sword-and Soul anthology that will be published later this year.
So yes, this is more of a shout-out than a review. I give shout-outs when I feel they are deserved, which is assuredly the case here — not only for Milton’s prose, but also for the excellent cover and interior art by Winston Blakely.
The Swahili word safari has been corrupted to the point where it almost automatically brings to mind images of rifle-toting, pith-helmeted white hunters marching ahead of long lines of black porters with bundles on their heads and superstitious terror in their hearts. Milton restores the original meaning of safari: a journey, not a hunt.
Changa Diop’s journey begins when he is captured and enslaved as a child from his native Bakongo. He ends up in Mogadishu, which was an important trading center in the fourteenth century, not the lawless hellhole it has become today. There, he becomes a champion in the city’s fighting-pits. A merchant from Mombasa buys Changa, frees him and brings him into the business. Ultimately, Changa becomes the merchant’s heir, much to the displeasure of his benefactor’s jealous sons.
Wealth is the lure that impels Changa to embark on the safari that is the focus of the book. Along the way, he travels to the stone citadels of Zimbabwe, the spice islands of Indonesia, and the towering pagodas of Beijing. Unlike the thieves and marauders that roam through much of fantasy fiction, Changa’s goal is not simply to acquire treasure then sell it to the richest go-between. His purpose is to build a business empire that will benefit not only himself, but also those whom he employs.
Changa is hardly a saint. But he’s not a fourteenth-century counterpart to the robber barons on Wall Street, either.He’s willing to risk his life to save his people and his world from the mystical menaces he encounters during his safari, and if he has to cut his losses, he does it.
Changa is no superman. But he can more than hold his own against human and supernatural foes alike. Here’s an example of his prowess, in a life-and-death struggle against a fisinaume, a demonic creature with a human body and the head of a hyena.
Changa stepped forward and was hit in the midsection and knocked onto his back, sword and throwing knife flying from his hands. The fisinaume straddled him, holding him down with one massive arm as the other raised a dagger above him. Changa threw up his left arm, taking the knife in the flesh of his forearm. He clenched his fist, the muscles of his arm tightening around the blade, and with a painful yell yanked his arm away and snatched the knife from the fisinaume’s paw. Changa’s free right hand slammed into the creature’s throat and the left hand followed. The fisinaume reached for Changa’s throat but stopped, its eyes widening as it began to lose its breath. It clawed at Changa’s hands, then pummeled his wounded arm, attempting to break his grip. Changa’s strength held as he dug deep into the foundation of endurance developed from years of pit-fighting as a slave. The creature’s flailing weakened then stopped. With its last breath it emitted a piercing shriek that cut through Changa’s ears. The death wail took the fight out of its companions; the remaining bandits broke away and disappeared into the darkness.
The merchant-warrior is also quick with a quip:
He turned to the young prince: “How good is your sword arm?
“I have trained with the finest swordsmen of Aden. I have also tutored under the great Andalusian sword-master Al-Jafar,” he said proudly.
“If you are alive in the morning I’ll be impressed,” Changa replied.
Even though Changa is a larger-than-life personality, his associates are remarkable in their own right. There’s the robed, veiled warrior known simply as “The Taureg,” who speaks not with his voice, but with the sharp edge of his sword. Panya is an enigmatic sorceress from the land of the Yoruba, on the opposite side of Africa. Zakee is an exile Arabian prince.
With formidable powers of pacing and description, Milton delineates the complex, intricate milieu of the Indian Ocean trade during the time before it was irrevocably disrupted by the Portuguese and other European expansionists. Wherever he goes, whether it’s in Africa or Asia, Changa dominates through strength and shrewdness. When I first read MIlton’s manuscript, I immediately realized that Changa Diop is truly a hero who can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with my own creation, Imaro.
The Meji books are alternate-world fantasy. Changa’s Safari, on the other hand, takes place in the past of the world we know, with some supernatural alterations. With these books, Milton has demonstrated the versatility of his imagination. Trust me … there’s a lot more to come.
Changa’s Safari is available at Amazon.com and bn.com. You can also order it directly from Milton at: www.mvmediaatl.com.