African Monsters Review Part 1

Monsters and legends.  Every culture has them and in American pop culture, some of these monsters and ideas have been worn to nothing.  The European caricatures of vampires and werewolves have been playing out for decades here.  So this book was refreshing for that reason and because it allowed me as an African-American to get another interesting glimpse into the continent from which my ancestry hails.  To be short, this anthology captured my imagination and forced me to turn on the lights at points of my reading it.  I’ll run through the stories, giving some insight into the parts of them that stuck out for me.  Given the amount of tales woven and my need to say something about each one, this review will be broken into three easily digestible parts.

The first story in the collection was crafted by the incomparable Nnedi Okorafor titled “On the Road”.  This was a perfect story to begin the collection with as it smashed all of my expectations because my early assumptions told me this was to be a zombie story. Wrong is probably not even appropriate to sum up my ill conclusion.  The idea of the mmuo was just so damn intriguing and terrifying in scope.  Its imagery harkened back to some of the mystical guardians seen in Who Fears Death.  In such a small space, Okorafor managed to give us lessons on family, fate and responsibility.  The ending felt like something right out of a superhero origin story.  You can always expect a coolly crafted heroine under Okorafor’s pen.

Next in the collection is a story from Joan de la Haye called “Impundulu”.  The creature that the title is named for strikes me a bit like a Garuda.  I couldn’t help but to invoke the imagery of Perdido Street Station as I read this story.  Rape and its awful consequences is a terrible, global disease and I think this story tries to manage some of that in its own way.   The Impundulu seems to represent the righteous, if not dark, rage a person feels after suffering that kind of violation.  As the story plays out, you see that rage causes indiscriminate lashing out.  I think more could have been done to build up the character of the daughter, but when viewed through the lens of her being a symbol then I see why she wasn’t.

“One Hundred and Twenty Days of Sunlight” by Tade Thompson was one of the longer pieces in the anthology.   Despite every descriptive writing and a sympathetic main character, I’m not sure if it needed to be that long of a story.  There was an immediacy to some of the scenes that I don’t think carried all the way through the story.   But what I found the most interesting was the relationship between the protagonist and the foreign priest.  It struck me as somewhat twisted how this priest had deluded himself into thinking the protagonist was something he could pin down.  By far, that dynamic caught my attention the most.

“Severed” by Jayne Bauling reminded me so much of an old school horror movie.  College kids on a trip and ignoring local lore is something I’ve seen played out in that genre quite a few times, but here it feels new and refreshing.  The monster at the center of this story is horrifying in its ability to take away your freewill through something you can never really get rid of.  It takes one of the most natural aspects of yourself and turns it into something wholly dangerous.  The story works itself in a way you might expect it to, but you’re still left with sufficient chills once it’s done.

Tomorrow we’ll be digging into some stories from Su Opperman, Dilman Dila and others..

..African Monsters


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