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Posted April 15, 2009
Long before Xena, Buffy and Anita Blake, there existed Dirisha Zuri--one of the toughest martial arts fighters in the Confed. Unfortunately this book is out of print, but it's worth finding.
Dirisha was also one of the few black heroines in a sadly lily-white science-fiction/fantasy universe, which makes no sense if earth has colonized the stars. One would think people of color would be a part of that exploration, right? Being a young geek girl of color, it was a little tough to seldom see characters who didn't look like me featured in this genre. The only other author(s) I knew who often featured characters of color were Octavia Butler and Samuel Delany.
I actually picked up Matadora because of the cover (the character of Dirisha reminded me of Grace Jones) and fell in love with the action-packed world author Steve (I'm Not The Singer) Perry crafted. His fictional science-fiction worlds actually featured people of color in prominent roles and not as sidekicks.
Dirisha Zuri grew up on the streets of a backwater planet, but through sheer will and strength escaped to become a deadly "player" of the Musashi Flex--a combat game of skill where to lose often meant serious injury or death. After one fight too many, Dirisha begins to re-examine her life, and that's when a friend from her past offers her a better way to utilize her talents--as a Matador.
The Matadors are more than just elite bodyguards she discovers once a student of their training school. They are catalysts for change, as they are set to guarding those opposing the authoritarian rule of the Galactic Confed, especially its de facto leader--the ruthless kingmaker, Marcus Jefferson Wall. The strength of Perry's writing lies in his characterizations--one doesn't have to read the entire Matador saga in order to get a sense of who the various players are--he fully fleshes them out. Pen, the leader of the Matadors who hides a rather interesting past; Geneva and Red, the father-daughter team whose skills with the nonlethal spetsdods impresses even Dirisha; Mayli Wu, the former prostitute turned lethal assassin who teaches the emotionally distant Dirisha that love is strength, not weakness; the gentle giant Saval Bork whose calm demeanor masks a nearly superhuman power.
Perry obviously knows his martial arts, and while some of the terms might be unfamilar to those who don't have that background, his knowledge doesn't get in the way of the plot. There are some adult themes/situations in Matadora, but the scenes are well-written and not gratuituous. It was actually refreshing to read about female characters who enjoyed being sexual without becoming objectified.
My copy is dog-eared but well-loved. I hope someday the entire Matador saga will be re-released for a new generation of fans to enjoy.
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