If the Sword-and-Soul sub-genre were a relay race, I would be the starting runner. The person to whom I would hand the baton for the next leg is Milton Davis. This is not the most appropriate analogy, though. I haven't handed off any baton. Milton and I are running this race together, side-by-side. And ... there's no finish line. My hope is that Sword-and-Soul will go on indefinitely, with more and more authors creating more and more novels and short stories, as well as visual art.
One of Milton's novels, published in 2013, has already become a classic. Its title is Woman of the Woods, The story unfolds in Milton's alternate-world version of Africa known as Uhuru, which is also the setting for his ground-breaking Meji novels.
The title character is a warrior-woman named Sadatina. Adopted as an infant by a farming family, Sadatina grows up unaware of her destiny. One indication that she is not like other girls is her instinctual command of combat skills. Another is the bond she establishes with a pair of orphaned female lion cubs, who soon become her four-footed "sisters."
Beyond the boundaries of Sadatina's home community,dire events are occurring. An unholy alliance of humans, called the Mosele, and demonic beasts, called the nyoka, is seeking to dominate all of Uhuru. This conflict directly impacts Sadatina when she returns from a trip to find her home destroyed and her parents dead at the hands (and claws) of the nyoka.
With the help of her ferocious "sisters," Sadatina avenges the deaths of her parents. Then she becomes the "Woman of the woods," a reclusive slayer of nyokas and protector of her people.
One day, a mysterious stranger comes to her people's country: A warrior woman who is a member of the Shosa, an order of female soldiers who from the distant city of Wangara. Her name is Hazeeta, and it turns out that she is Sadatina's natural mother, who had been forced by unbending custom to give her daughter up soon after birth.
After a bittersweet reunion, Hazeeta takes Sadatina to Wangara, where it is expected that the young woman will undergo training to become a Shosa. But the free-spirited Sadatina balks at that prospect, and leaves Wangara to return to her role as "Woman of the Woods."
Years later, Sadatina has a change of heart, and she makes a second journey to Wangara, this time to stay. Not only does she become a Shosa, she rises to the top of the order, reaching the position of Nana -- a combination of commander and priestess.
In the meantime, ominous and momentous events continue to occur throughout the land. Two god-like entities, Karan and Rashadu, are fomenting mayhem and destruction. Humans and nyokas alike are locked in a dance of death, and Wangara itself is in peril.
With her lioness sisters at her side, and a talismanic magical sword named Judgment in her hand, Sadatina plays a pivotal role in this cataclysmic conflict. Before it ends, lives are lost, ancient wrongs are righted, and new beginnings rise from painful endings.
Although Woman of the Woods weighs in at 275 pages, those pages are packed with enough action, color, and spectacle to do justice to a novel twice its length. sometimes, it reads like an African counterpart to the Norse Ragnarok, the Twilight of the Gods. when Rashadu and Karan, along with Cha, the deity of deities, are in the house?
Woman of the Woods is not only one of the best Sword-and-Soul novels I've ever read; it's one of the best fantasy novels, period. If you haven't read it yet, do yourself a favor and order a copy at MVmedia Publishing The Best in Black Speculative Fiction! You'll be glad you did.