The Book of Exodus
Dominion is an ambitious and enjoyable collection of short stories written by a wide range of African voices. The talented writers within these pages have been brought together under the pretense of geography and cultural heritage so that they may eschew for the reader the same hegemonic biases non-Africans often adopt when attempting to define the massive continent and its incredibly varied peoples as one.
Review by Rob Carroll, Dark Matter Magazine Editor-in-Chief
August 24, 2020
An Ambitious Aim
The continent of Africa accounts for 20.4% of the earth’s total land area. At over 30 million square kilometers, it is larger than the United States, China, and Brazil combined.
Just think about that for a moment.
As an American, I feel the United States is large—and honestly, despite my bias, that’s a pretty accurate read on the size of the country. That’s why two people living in the U.S. can share a national identity but have little else in common. Unless you make it a point to travel to distant states—and this is a luxury that not many enjoy—you really only know your countrymen and their varied ways of life through their stories, whether told in books, on television, via a phone call from a friend or relative, or through the imperfect prism that is the national news.
And Africa is more than three times the size of the U.S.
The mind-blowing scope of it all is what I keep thinking about when I begin reading Dominion, which is a brand new speculative fiction anthology from Aurelia Leo press that collects stories from all of Africa and the African Diaspora, and it’s what I think about every time I finish one of the thirteen fascinating stories included within the anthology’s pages. My hat goes off to editors Zelda Knight and Ekpeki Oghenechovwe Donald. To weave together an anthology that by the very nature of its aim draws from such a vast ocean of voice, culture, identity, expression, and experience could not have been an easy feat. And to make matters more difficult, the editors chose speculative fiction as the backdrop, which is a category of fiction that has undeniably ballooned into an unwieldy catch-all for basically any story that isn’t literature in the most traditional of senses.
A Stunning Tapestry
It’s no surprise then that the result of Knight and Donald’s vision is a gorgeous, multi-colored dream coat stitched together from the threads of tangentially related genres and varied influences, including but not limited to the customs, experiences, and artistic styles of the many writers gathered within. The stories included in Dominion explore modern futures and traditional pasts. Progress spars with legend. Technology redefines history. Characters confront systemic violence that is externally stripping them of their identity, or internalized violence that is stripping them of their soul.
Make no mistake. The characters in these pages often eschew western tropes, as should be expected. The men and women in these stories are chiefs and warriors and witch doctors. They are the descendants of a lost ancestry, or the remains of a scattered people. They identify themselves by clan, live by ancient proverbs, and tenuously walk along moral lines that shift with the fickle sands of time.
The speculative part of the fiction here is rendered with purpose. The fantastical—which, as an aside, fits the folklore trappings of these stories like a glove—is simple expressionism; an effective, tried-and-true device meant to impress upon the reader a powerful subjective perspective that the world has historically ignored.
A Worthwhile Adventure
Clocking in at thirteen stories, the reader is bound to find at least a few tales they like, probably more. It’s not prudent to expect every story in an anthology to suit every reader’s tastes, and as a reviewer, I would never suggest as much, especially when reviewing an anthology like this one that is so varied in substance and style. But I will say with confidence that Dominion delivers on its central conceit. The anthology is a courageous, thought-provoking exploration of what it means to be African.
It should also be stated that the stories in this book can be enjoyed by anyone. No prior knowledge of Africa or the African Diaspora is needed. I had limited knowledge myself, and I was never lost or left wondering. With that said, it is my hope that these stories will inspire more readers to learn about the meanings and the history behind the words (I know they inspired me), but even if they don’t, every story contained in this book has the potential to captivate the reader regardless.
Stories are so important to the vitality and health of humanity. Good stories unite us. They bridge geographic distance and cultural divides. They get the fisherman in Maine to see through the eyes of the nurse in New Mexico. They get the editor in Chicago to see through the eyes of a young African man who is struggling with the weight of familial duty and heritage on the other side of the world.
During a time in history when fiction is weaponized—when stories are told to divide and conquer us; to lie to us—stories that aim to bridge differences and create understanding have an ever-more healing effect, even if those stories are dark or explore uncomfortable truths. At least they are truths.
Dominion was published on August 17, 2020, and is currently available for purchase in digital and print. Purchase your copy today.