Chance Arradondo’s heroic foray into fantasy, “The Path of Kingdoms: Book One of the Tales of Elementus,” crafts a fluid, image-rich narrative, recalling sword and sorcery legend Robert E. Howard. Descriptions paint a detailed, life-like word canvas of subtle immediacy vivid as viewing a movie.
The opening scene, set in a fictional imaginably long-ago land, reads, “The night was hot as insects buzzed through the darkness. Men, women, and children ran and crouched in the bushes of the Kiilanji jungle in the heart of Akadune, panting, trying not to make sounds.
“The young held back tears as their fathers consoled them quietly, hugging them and kissing their wives, breathing heavy from being chased through the tall blades of grass, their wagons and carriages pillaged and burned as they took flight on foot from their would-be abductors.”
Arradondo artfully conveys setting and circumstance. “The frightened tribesman heard of these demons and how they would come and pillage through the night, decimating families by abduction and murder, though they had only appeared in the last few years and only at night. Yes, there were demons of legend, the elders would say, as families mourned the slain and kidnapped.”
Shortly, those tribesmen are set upon by slavers. Most are saved by the exiled heir to the emperor’s throne, the people’s champion Ri, a valiant warrior looking to win her rightful station.
Ri and her guerrilla band are making their way across the countryside, rectifying injustice along the way until she’s betrayed and dragged off in chains—undeterred—determined to yet gain her crown and free the tribes from ruthless subjugation.
Conversely, there is Ellen. It’s a given that the bad guy—in this case, gal—be as strong as the protagonist. Accordingly, we meet this evil witch at her worst, mercilessly visiting the black arts on innocents and culpable alike, including the henchman who freed her from languishing in a hellish purgatory.
She, too, is determined. Her goal, though, is to find and free an ancient, dark god, plunging all of existence into a state of demonic chaos. It adds considerable dimension that Ellen didn’t start out in life this.
In fact, in her youth, she was a compassionate warmhearted soul who was, overtime corrupted into a callous bloodthirsty hellion. The action takes place amid blood and gore battles waged in apocalyptic warfare, mortal kingdom after kingdom falling before an onslaught of despots, wizards, and supernatural monstrosities. From the outset, there is dramatic tension and it’s all worth sitting down to with popcorn and soda.
The downside to “The Path of Kingdoms” is steep. The two strongest characters, both women, Ri and Ellen, equally fascinating, are, it seems, headed for an eventual showdown in a clash of good versus evil. But they never cross paths. Moreover, the story itself has no payoff as the book ends before the opposing armies—a rallied force of surviving kingdoms rising to meet the monstrous juggernaut sweeping the land—face off. We have to wait for this, presumably in book two.
Chance Arradondo, it’s well worth noting, is exceptional simply in having undertaken the genre. After all, there hasn’t been a huge host of Black authors trying their hand. Charles R. Saunders, who passed away in May, is arguably a pioneer of what’s dubbed “sword and soul” with his series of “Imaro” novels.
Also prominent are Nnedi Okorafor (“Zahrah the Windseeker,” and “Akata Witch”) and Samuel R. Delany (the “Return to Nevèrÿon” series, and”Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders”).