by Eamon Bernard
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On the ancient, endless Savanna that Nuru was raised, life was hard but simple. He and his tribe traversed the land driving their herd from the ocean in the west to the mountains in the east. Everything changed in a single night when monstrous creatures out of legend attacked Nuru and his family and transformed his life forever. Now he must find a way to survive in a hostile world and find a way to warn others about the evil forces marshaling in the silent darkness.
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SOME WORDS FROM EAMON
Fantasy as a genre has always had a particular flavor or style. You know what I mean: wizards, goblins, swords, and sorcery. I mean, that\’s what fantasy is, right? Well, yes and no.
I\’m Eamon Bernard and I’m here to talk about my new release titled \”Nuru.\” I\’ve always had a passion for fantasy as a genre, so when I decided to try and self-publish my own work, it comes as little surprise that was the genre that I started with. \”Nuru\” tells the story of a young warrior who was part of a tribe of nomadic herders until mythical creatures attack his people and he must try and survive on his own as well as warn the world about the threat. The cultures of the characters in the story are inspired by African culture and societies. Something that is terribly underrepresented in the fantasy genre. It\’s also an approach that, as a white author, I was worried about taking on. Let\’s be honest, issues of race and cultural appropriation are very relevant and indeed very personal to a lot of people. So, why did I do it?
When I set out coming up with ideas for my fantasy novel, I had to find something new: a new voice, a new story, a new way to approach the tired old tropes that the genre is known for; and let\’s be honest: some of those tropes are as tired as they get. The chosen one, the exiled king, the wise wizard and so on. Part of my creative process was figuring out what other writers were doing, but just as important was finding out what other writers weren\’t doing. It yielded some very interesting results.
I have to admit that growing up I was never one to get on my high horse about diversity and representation. In fact, I have always sort of been an apologist for traditional fantasy stories having a cast that is mostly representative of Western Europe. After all, these stories are usually some form of a pseudo-medieval Europe, so it made sense to me that most of the characters would look pseudo-medieval European. But the people with whom I was having that discussion with would always follow up my response with a very intriguing question: then where are the fantasy stories with cultures and people based on places beside medieval Western Europe?
And they were absolutely right.
I mean, it\’s not as if non-western cultures don\’t have their own strong fantasy traditions. It\’s not uncommon to see fantasy elements in genres such as Japanese Anime, Chinese Kung-Fu, and even Indian Bollywood musicals. So why is it so rare for cultures such as them to have meaningful representation in western fantasy literature?
So when I started writing, I wanted to know why this was. What people often forget is that all of modern fantasy can be traced back to J.R.R. Tolkien, and one of the things Tolkien was trying to do with \”The Lord of the Rings\” and his other writings on Middle Earth was create a sort of alternate mythology for Britain. That\’s one of the reason there\’s so much Celtic and Norse influence in the cultures of Middle Earth. This fits with the world he was building and it made sense for the story he was telling.
However, the problem was that people who were influenced by Tolkien hewed too close to this approach so nearly all of what would become known as the fantasy genre was stuck on this pseudo-European medieval culture for a long time. While a few writers bravely broke away from this model, most were happy enough to keep writing about dwarves and elves and knights in shining armor. And don\’t get me wrong, I love dwarves and elves and knights in shining armor. I love \”The Lord of the Rings\” and \”A Song of Ice and Fire\” and \”The Wheel of Time.\” But while I love taking inspiration from such creations, I wanted to try something different – and something that pulled me out of my comfort zone. I didn\’t want to make a new \”Lord of the Rings,\” because I never could. I\’m not going to out-Tolkien Tolkien. I can only be me, and that meant finding my own voice and that meant doing something different than the things I had read or the things I had previously written.
So I started looking to see how fantasy could be used when put into a different cultural setting. Of course, there have been previous trailblazers. I\’m not deluded enough to think I\’m anywhere near the first to do this and I don\’t want to discount their creativity or success. \”Children of Blood and Bone\” by Tomi Adeyemi has been one of the genre\’s more recent hits, for instance, and authors such as Ta-Nehisi Coates have been sneaking African culture and Afro-futurism into mainstream culture for most of their careers. And, to be fair, their work hasn\’t gone unnoticed. Representation in the fantasy genre has been getting more common in recent years, but it\’s still considered an exception when it does happen.
Which is how I got to \”Nuru.\” My approach was thinking about what would be happening on the other side of the planet while Frodo was trying to destroy the One Ring or the Seven Kingdoms were fighting over the Iron Throne. What would the stories be in these beloved fantasy worlds look like if they were in a different place with different people? I think it\’s a fun mental exercise for any fan of the genre, and \”Nuru\” was my answer to that mental exercise.
It feels ludicrously stupid to think something as monumental as racism or disproportionate representation can be solved by a few fantasy books here or there, because it won\’t be . . . but maybe it could help. Maybe it could turn a couple more people on to the genre who wouldn\’t explore it otherwise. Maybe those few books could inspire the next J.R.R. Tolkien to create the next major genre innovation. Maybe it will just mean a few new interesting stories that are less stale and repetitive.
Undoubtedly, some readers will disagree with how I approach the issue . . . and that\’s great. It\’s great because they might try their own hand at exploring this topic. It means fantasy fans could get to see multiple authors tackle this issue in a myriad of ways with various results. When you\’re taking such serious matters like racism or bigotry into consideration, it\’s a lot of pressure to put on a few books about magical powers and otherworldly creatures. But then again, if fantasy has one defining common element it\’s that it teaches people to dream of how things can be different than they are.
I think fantasy is up to the task.
I found myself intrigued by this book, and I’m glad I decided to review. The culture, admittedly, is foreign to me, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying the story in the slightest. If nothing else, this book should teach its readers that we are all alike in more ways than we are different. Whether based in European, African, or Asian lore, flesh-eating creatures storming your camp in the middle of the night is a terrifying, life-changing event. Nuru came across as such a real character. His home is destroyed in a horrific way, and he reacts in the way I’d expect any functioning human to react: he falls apart. He doesn’t brandish his sword and swagger into battle. He goes through his grieving process, even wants to give up, before he decides he needs to take action. I loved that about him. He makes plenty of mistakes on his road to aiding the world, and I love that, too. Nuru is beautifully flawed while still feeling like a hero and a teenage boy.
This book has a great cast of characters and some fascinating settings. There is an epic feel to the conflict, but it also never loses sight of the individual’s struggle. The ending left room for a sequel, and I’m curious to know what comes next. There are some gory scenes, so if your stomach turns easily, be prepared. The gore isn’t to excess, though, and I recommend this to all my fantasy peeps.
Eamon Bernard is an author and journalist living in the Detroit area. His passions include everything that probably got you beaten up in middle school. In his free time he enjoys writing (duh), gaming, reading, seeing his enemies driven before him, and hearing the lamentations of their women.
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