Charles Saunders is a legend few of you are aware of (thanks to the lack of promotion for black artists of speculative media), who by universal grace is back and continuing to bless us with his intricate weaving of lush fantastical worlds. He may very well be the first African-American author of straight up Fantasy fiction having released the Imaro stories in the 80's, among who knows how many others that weren't placed in our line of vision in our formative years. I only found about him this year along with Troy and Nnedi, and heard about the honorable Octavia Butler in 2005, and Nola Hopkinson in 2007. It's a shame speculative authors of color aren't common knowledge.
I ran across Mr. Saunders new publishers at Ecbacc this year, and was given a copy of Dossouye to review. It's an honor certainly, and I hope to do the review of this tale of a strong warrior women hailing from original origins justice.
To comment on holding the book in my hands; the physical presence of the book has the power to beckon hands to the shelf it will be perched upon in stores. It is awesomely designed by the hand of Mshindo I, and the internal layout and typesetting are very well done. I look forward to the coming projects of Sword and Soul Media, as even on an indie level they took the task of putting Dossouye into book form very seriously.
Dossouye is a tale that is written seamlessly as a novel comprised of stories previously published in short story and novella form. Mr. Saunders wrote and rewrote them to weave them together, and with writing that is as smooth as silk, he accomplished it while championing the power of belief and illuminating the tethers of tradition. Dossouye speaks beautifully a message the world is finally beginning to grasp: We create what we believe. ...And we no doubt uphold those creations in the form of traditions.
Tackling little understood Motherland traditions in his alternative version of Africa, Mr. Saunders helps us to understand the diversity of beliefs in so large a continent, even while making the metaphysical suggestion that our beliefs also imprint upon the ethers and create things in the unseen realms that we may not see because we don't completely comprehend our power as a species.
I was in awe with the subtle way he handled the suggestion, and found it very difficult to put the book down.
Dossouye has a flow that creates a desire within in you to follow her throughout the pages, though at times she seems to have no sense of direction. It is the uncertainty that she possesses despite her larger than life warrioress skills, and keen mind, which kept me wondering where she was traveling in self-imposed exile, and which reflections of herself she might find? How long would her will last without a sense of direction? Had she given up? Could she accept her identity outside of lifelong traditions and beliefs her mind and spirit were communally shaped by?
The loss that she continued to experience was heavy and saddening but didn't overpower the story or weigh it down. Dossouye somehow maintains a level of innocence as a character; a resilience that helps you to forget the harsh realities she's survived for a time, despite their severity, so you can continue to follow her, watch her break a few villians off something proper, and explore facets of herself that are both obvious and mysterious to the reader. She is as tender as she is fierce and as childlike as she is seasoned.
The exquisitely written magik in the book mirrors, I think, the part of Dossouye that she is most unfamiliar with. The imagination in her vulnerability. The wings of beauty in the part of her that does not wield a sword. The child she might have been if her parents had been given a different fate. I especially cherished the beautiful relationship she shared with Gbo, her faithful companion.
I thoroughly enjoyed the read, and marveled at Charles' pacing. Just as I began to wonder where Dossouye was heading next, I realized the answer was already prepared to be revealed in layers just at the time the reader might ask it. Charles Saunders is a wonder of an author, who intelligently and with amazing grace has created a fierce warrioress on a continent most prefer to ignore, who reveals a fascinating world of human and at times superhuman interactions that reveal the inherent vulnerability in everything, and how our perceptions wrap themselves around those weaknesses with hopes of protecting that vulnerability from both external and internal threats, usually to no avail.
concept art created by Joseph R. Wheeler
Dossouye at Goodreads.com
Concept art done by Astrid Vollenbruch
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