Queen of Zazzau
By J.S. Emuakpor
Publisher: Afrocentric Books | Mugwump Press
Publication Date: November 20, 2018
Genre: Historical Fantasy, Mythical Realism
Amina is heir apparent to the throne of Zazzau and must prove she is worthy of the crown. As foreign invaders close in on them, she is all that stands between her people and destruction. Caught in a web of prophecies, she must defend Zazzau, but cannot do so if she wants to prevent the future that was foretold. She did not seek war yet it finds her. Unwilling to be the plaything of gods or men and determined to take control of her own destiny, she tracks down the god of war himself. But has her destiny already been written? Can she choose her own fate? And can she protect her kingdom, no matter what price she must ultimately pay? Because, gods always want something in return.
Queen of Zazzau is an Historical Fantasy that takes place in precolonial West Africa. It chronicles the life of one of the most famous W. African queens, Amina of Zazzau (or Zaria). At 139,000 words, the novel features several W. African historical figures and a pantheon of W. African gods. The story is told in first-person and gives the reader an intimate look at some of the lifestyles and cultures--many of which are still alive today--of medieval W. Africa.
I dreamed. Not a dream of laughing brooks and water spirits; I dreamed of an empty plain. I stood in the field, yellow-green savanna grass swaying in the wind. As its soft whistle grew to a roar, the grass whipped my legs violently. But it wasn’t the wind roaring; it was men. Hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands suddenly surrounded me. Each man fought the other with murder in his eyes.
My uncle was among them. Sword in hand, he lunged at the nearest half-naked man and brought down his blade, cutting into the other man’s shoulder. His enemy howled in pain but did not fall. The soldier rushed forward, still howling, pushing the sword deeper into his own flesh, and stabbed at Karama with a long-knife. Karama swept the knife away with a braceleted wrist. Then his wrist came down on the howling man’s head, burying the raised, serrated edge of a war bracelet in his skull.
Dislodging his bracelet, my uncle pushed the corpse off his blade. He turned and saw me. Our eyes locked for only a moment before a spear sprouted from his chest. Screaming, I ran to him but was buffeted by a sea of men. The faster I tried to run, the farther away my uncle was.
“Uncle,” I cried. “No!” But the wave of men pushed me to the ground. Curling into a ball, I tucked my head under my arms, closed my eyes, and screamed as the men stampeded over me.
I opened my eyes, confused, sweat slick on my brow, tears still damp on my cheeks. The men were gone, but I could hear their cries. Climbing to my feet, I scanned the vast savanna ocean. A mud altar now stood beside me that hadn’t been there before. Blood spilled from the edges of the altar like melting wax. The men’s cries came from the structure. From the thousands of tiny figures piled upon it. At first, I thought they were living dolls, but they were the miniaturized bodies of men suffering myriad violent deaths. These were the casualties of war.
I stared at the mangled bodies, some of which were writhing in pain, and somehow knew these men had died—were dying—in the battle leagues away. Frantic and nearly petrified by what I might find, I searched for my uncle among the bodies. There were so many Zazzagawa and Kwararafa mingled in the pile; I couldn’t tell one fallen soldier from another.
Wringing my hands, I backed away and reminded myself not to let fear subdue me, but terror pounded in my chest. The stink of death hung over the altar like a horrible fog that choked my lungs. Retreating from it, I came up against something hot and solid.
The thing behind me shifted. It spoke.
“Look upon Death, Beloved. And know it for what it is.”
I spun around, stumbling backward, to find myself staring at the chest of a very tall man. Still trying but failing to fully master my fear, I took another backward step and looked up at who stood before me.
Towering over seven feet, the man had skin like polished ebony. He wore a vivid red and gold kilt that hung to just above his knees and a black cloak so long it brushed the ground. Black leather bracers with gold clasps covered his forearms. The open cloak was slung back over his shoulders, exposing a lean, powerful torso that rippled with muscle under smooth, dark skin.
I followed the contours of his chest, his long neck, a proud jawline. Save for the pointed tuft of hair on his chin and the thick, black eyebrows, his face and head were bald. His gaze was fixed on the altar, his chin raised, so I could not see his eyes. I didn’t need to see them. I knew that once he looked at me, I’d be staring into the roiling red eyes of War.
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J.S. Emuakpor was born and raised in West Africa. She is a married mother of four, a scientist, and owner of Afrocentric Books. She currently lives in North Carolina and is very much allergic to it. Most of her writing draws upon the spiritual beliefs of the ancestors who frequently whisper in her ear and on the superstitions that she refuses to relinquish.
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