Reading Changa’s Safari, a thrilling and original adventure introducing an instantly iconic hero, was one of the most satisfying literary experiences of my life. It’s as if Milton J. Davis reached into my mind, found elements I’ve always loved and expertly assembled them, the way a parent might weave all their child’s favorite things into a bedtime story.
Given that the glory of medieval Africa was its vast and sophisticated trading system, I’ve long thought an African Sinbad would make an interesting character — and here he is: the swashbuckling merchant Changa, who survives on both his cunning and brawn. I grew up on those Ray Harryhausen movies like The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad, and this book recaptures that magic and mystery, as the seafaring Changa ventures onto mysterious islands, slashes his way through jungles and battles monsters, demons and sorcerers. The novel is broken into three grand outings. In the first, he and his intrepid crew set forth on a quest for a powerful talisman called the Jade Obelisk – which, in the wrong hands can destroy the world. In another, to return an emperor to his throne, Changa journeys to the Great Wall of China.
I’m a huge fan of the Conan books and Changa’s Safari — a brilliant example of what’s been dubbed the “sword and soul” genre — has echoes of Robert Howard’s cosmology. The hero finds himself at odds with sinister, ancient entities that lurk on the edges of our world, aching to regain power.
Davis clearly invested many years researching Africa and it pays off in believability. The setting is not some fantasy land cobbled together from a couple of Internet articles and wishful thinking, but real places such as Zimbabwe and the port city of Sofala, reconstructed as they must have been, with loving attention to detail. Medieval African merchants really did do business as far away as East Asia. As a student of African history who is eager to see representations of the continent that do justice to its advanced civilizations, I’m ecstatic to find a book that satisfies that thirst.
Whether on land or sea, the action scenes are vividly described and well-choreographed. The weapons used and the military tactics all are genuine. The supporting cast including Changa’s sorceress aide and love interest Panya, help to round out the story and bring out the hero’s compassionate side. While he hungers for gold, he cares for his friends more.
I have to admit, I’m a bit envious of Davis. My own sword and soul novel The Blood of Titans contains loads of details about African societies culled from stacks of books, but I ended up borrowing from various cultures as needed to create a mythological kingdom. In retrospect, I wish I’d set the story in a specific time and place, as Davis does. My book also includes a wily warrior-merchant, the caravan master Kamau, as a secondary hero — but frankly, I kind of like Changa better!
Trouble is now I’m getting greedy. I want to read the next Changa book and the next. I want to feast my eyes on a graphic novel version and a feature film. And I can see in my head a TV show akin to Xena, Warrior Princess, following the adventures of the hero and his intrepid crew!