Book Review: Amber and the Hidden City
I've been collecting a stack of fiction that centrally features black characters, so after spinning around with my eyes closed and picking one at random, I started with reading Amber and the Hidden City.
The book is a fantasy adventure story by African-American author Milton J. Davis, centered around the titular character. Amber is a 13 year old African-American girl who discovers that her grandmother is actually from the mystical city of Marai, which is magically hidden in the Sahara. Amber has inherited her grandmother's talents as a seer, and is urgently needed to guide the elders of Marai to who the next leader will be. The only problem is, she has no idea that the city is real, and the knowledge turns her whole world view upside down... She embarks on a dangerous trek across the world with her grandmother, to Paris, Senegal, Timbuktu, and finally Marai - all the while pursued by the minions of a power-hungry Marai elitist with his eye on the throne.
The story is great for young teens, but it is also a refreshing read for adults, who may be more aware of the nuances of race and culture... it is by no means saturated with rhetoric of this nature, but is rather subtly weaved in enough to be realistic, though not so much that it bashes you over the head with it. The centre of the story is first and foremost the urgent political balance of the City, which rests on the shoulders of the 13 year old girl. There are many moments of tangible thrills, suspense, situational humour (when Marai citizens engage with the modern non-magical world for the first time), and really sweet family bonding scenes.
The cover is intriguing, and really says it all in one image: a young black girl who discovers another side of her identity rooted in a magically hidden city in Africa. Given the history of African-Americans and the separation to their ancestors' culture, I thought this was a highly relevant story, using fantasy to explore some concepts I have never seen portrayed in the genre; such as black people from different cultures meeting each other with realistic differences and similarities, and experiences black people from all backgrounds have with both benign and aggressive racism. It was a fun story, but also socially conscious, not shying away from these issues, but not obsessed with them either.
When we have many more stories such as Amber which treat blackness as just one aspect of identity that happens to be more significant in some scenarios than others, then we can fully humanise these characters beyond tokenism, and side-kick status.
Cons: There were a few minor errors in the text itself, which for the most part can be corrected in future editions easily enough.
Check out Amber and the Hidden City on Amazon.com
For more Afrocentric fantasy fiction, see my short story Montague's Last, an alternative history about a Chewa slave in an 18th Century French dungeon who uses his last breath to create an invention that will change the world...