A Heroic Fantasy series by Charles Saunders, currently consisting of four books.
Saunders grew up reading the adventures of Conan the Barbarian and Tarzan, but was troubled how such stories never had black heroes, even when Africa was involved. So he decided to write his own stories, and created Imaro and Nyumbani, his new hero and setting respectively. Nyumbani is a Fantasy Counterpart Culture of Ancient Africa with people and places corresponding to real ones throughout Africa's history. Imaro, an outsider from the moment of his birth, overcomes endless challenges to his existence ranging from petty Jerkasses who don't like him for not having a father to an Ancient Conspiracy by Eldritch Abominations. Imaro, aside from simply desiring survival, seeks to find the answers about his father and why he encounters so much misfortune. He makes good friends and hated enemies along his trek across Nyumbani.
In order, the series is as follows:
- The Quest for Cush
- The Trail of Bohu
- The Naama War
These books provide examples of:
- The Ace: Imaro. While he's never an Instant Expert, once he gets a chance to practice at anything, he invariably becomes the best at it.
- Alas, Poor Villain: It's hard not to feel sorry for N'tu-mwaa in the end. Even Imaro acknowledges to himself that they're Not So Different.N'tu-mwaa: I... cannot die now... I still have to show them... I am better than they... I am better than they, even though they say I'm not...
- Bilingual Bonus: Knowledge of Swahili will reveal many meaningful names.
- Nyumbani is Swahili for "home".
- Blade on a Stick: The Ilyassai Weapon of Choice is the arem, a long spear with a iron blade beginning halfway down its length, used both for throwing and melee combat.
- Boss Rush: On his way to face Isikukumadevu, Imaro is confronted by the images of four enemies he has previously killed.
- Broken Ace: While Imaro is certainly the biggest badass in the world, he's also increasingly haunted by all the pains and humiliations he's suffered, all the desperate battles he's had to fight, and all the horrific works of dark magic he's seen.
- The Dark Side: Mchawi, powerful magic that causes some serious Body Horror to the user.
- Disappeared Dad: Imaro never knew his father, and his mother would say nothing about him, even what people he was from.
- Double Standard: Ilyassai women are only allowed to have children with Ilyassai men, but Ilyassai men can take women from other nations as spoils of war; the narration specifically calls this out as a double standard.
- The Dragon: Rumanzila's leadership of the haramia is based partly on his own fighting prowess, partly on the Undying Loyalty of the mute giant Mbuto.
- Eldritch Abomination: The Mashataan is a race of these.
- Fantasy Counterpart Culture: Nyumbani is full of counterparts to tribes, kingdoms, and empires of Ancient Africa.
- Lightning Bruiser: Imaro is a huge, muscular man who's also extremely quick and light on his feet.
- Lovecraftian Superpower: Users of mchawi tend to develop abilities like Combat Tentacles that fire death rays.
- The Man Behind the Man: A whole row of them. Chitendu is the man behind Muburi, while the Sorcerers of Naama are the man behind him, while themselves being the servants of the demonic Mashataan. Chitendu at one point contempteously (and self-contempteously) calls Muburi a "tool of a tool."
- Meaningful Name: "Imaro" is derived from imara, Swahili for "power".
- Medieval European Fantasy: Deliberately avoided by being set in a fantasy version of Africa, populated with African-esque characters.
- Mirror Boss: Isikukumadevu sends a copy of Imaro's younger self against him. Imaro wins, but only by channeling the hatred he feels towards his past self for allowing the Illyassai to betray him, and it's implied that the fight did a number on his psyche.
- Noble Fugitive: Bomunu is a nobleman from Zanj who has been forced to become an outlaw after his schemes backfired on him.
- Not So Different: After killing N'tu-mwaa, Imaro reflects that they weren't so different - they were both trying to force a people who despised them for an accident of birth to recognise their worth.
- Not What I Signed on For: The haramia tell this to Imaro at the end of Book I. They're fine with banditry for profit, but fighting whole armies, confronting Eldritch Abominations, and chasing after the traitor who has kidnapped Imaro's love interest? Um, yeah, good luck with that...
- One-Winged Angel: N'tu-mwaa's partial ritual turns him into a grotesque creature with the head of a lion and the horns of a cow. Subverted in that he's still not meaningfully more powerful in that form, though if he'd been able to complete the ritual he'd have gained literally godlike powers.
- One-Word Title: Also a Protagonist Title.
- Proud Warrior Race Guy: The Illyassai are so hardcore that it is said that "even their cattle are warriors." Kulu proves as much when she's captured - when Imaro sees her again, he notes that she's got blood on her horns.
- Retcon: In the revised edition of the first book, "Slaves of the Giant Kings" has been replaced by "The Afua", because of the former story's resemblance to the Rwandan genocide.
- Showy Invincible Hero: No matter how hopeless Imaro's situation looks, you know he's always going to get out of it just by being that damn awesome (and maybe by a bit of luck on occasion). But reading about Imaro being awesome is still an awful lot of fun.
- Spider-Sense: Kufahuma, which is an acute awareness of one's surroundings and the ability to sense approaching danger. This is described as a skill anyone can cultivate with time and effort, but Imaro has something else as well: the ability to sense mchawi.
- Starter Villain: N'tu-mwaa is the first major enemy Imaro faces, and the only villain in the first book who isn't looking to destroy Imaro in particular - he's just looking to perform a ritual that requires the Human Sacrifice of an Illyassai warrior, and Imaro was the Illyassai warrior his henchmen happened to kidnap.
- Stuffed in the Fridge: Keteke doesn't really serve any purpose other than getting killed to make Imaro feel bad.
- Training from Hell: The Ilyassai's mafundishu-ya-muran is a grueling many-year-long training regimen that all boys go through. At the end of it, they have to kill a lion in single combat.
- Villain Team-Up: While their status as "villains" is a little uncertain note , the armies of the usually feuding countries of Zanj and Azania team up to take down Imaro and the haramia.