Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Imaro by Charles Saunders

One of the things I've been trying to do with my reading, is read more 'classic' material in the vein of some sword and sorcery background. I've heard of Imaro several times and Night Shade Books published some great Kane books back in the day that fall heavily into that category. With that in mind, I did a little research on Charles Saunder, who is quite accessible on the web having both his own page and a spot of Myspace.   The man is a historian and fiction writer but his work tends to focus on Africa. For me, Africa is one of those far away places that never had the 'cool' that the Far East did. It was never brought to gaming life by books like Legend of the Five Rings or the much older Oriental Adventures. Part of that, a huge part of that on my part, is just plain old ignorance. For the greater gaming community?
That I can't say. There have been several articles in Dragon Magazine through the years. One of the companies Gygax worked at brought us Æsheba: Greek Africa.  The d20 system, through Atlas, brought us Nyambe. Better than nothing mind you, but without a host of Samurai Sunday and other oddities to give vision to it, what did it mean for me as a gamer?

Not much. I pillage Greek Africa back in 2nd ed days. I yanked rules and ideas out of Nyambe. But actual use of them wasn't a strong point of mine because I wasn't quite sure what to make of it.

Imaro shows that strong writing, character, and the classics of the genre, of evil sorcery and the vile effects it has on men who dare to far, illustrate that even with the host of exotic language that Charles Saunders brings to Imaro, that a good story is a good story regardless of the setting.

So what were some of the things I thought of when reading Imaro?

1. Classic backgrounds are classic for a reason. While Imaro's childhood isn't as tortured as others in the genre, his is not a happy childhood. An outcast from his tribe his innate abilites force those about him to acknowledge them.

2. Classic themes: While the choosen one can get a bit overplayed, here, because it's Imaro and not a magical sword or some fantastic destiny that's hammered over the head, but rather, hinted at, it works. When using such old themes as a choosen one, don't play all of your cards right off the bat. Tantalize and tease with them. Hint at the greater world around the characters. Portray the characters as sailing on a sea of ignorance that they'll have to chart past if they want to know what's going on.

3. Not everyone is a 'good' guy. Imaro winds up leading a pack of bandits here. Sound familiar? Conan was all too often at the head of a group of bandits, thieves, pirates and cutthroads. The ability to wield men into a sword and cut through opposing enemies until brought down low by treachery, is one that should be familiar to any fan of Sword and Sorcery.

4. Curse Your Inevitiable Betrayal: There are those Imaro allies himself with that well, he suspects that they're up to no good. His good friends continually warn him of those foes. But with some bull headedness brought on by previous victories and his self confidence that he can handle any problem, Imaro suffers some serious setbacks.

Imaro is a strong entry into the classic sword and sorcery field. It is bristling with energy and while initially written as short stories, is woven together into one whole novel that leaves the reader wondering what happens next. If you've been looking for some Africian based inspiration, Imaro is a damn fine start.