The thing that hit me when I read this 17th Century novel about an African prince transported as a slave to Surinam as the consequence of a forbidden love affair was that the prince, Oroonoko, was a person - and not just the human metaphor for slavery itself that i'd expected.
This is a rare example of an English novel from the period before the ideology of slavery had been fully developed; Africans might have been perceived as less advanced than Europeans but they had not yet been reduced to the status of farm animals. Oroonoko, while not a fully sympathetic character, is brave and noble. The love affair that binds Oroonoko and Imoinda to a fate as slaves is deep and sensitive. African societies are implied to be complex, not the simple gangs of men with spears they would be transformed into in later European imaginings.
Aphra Behn is reported to have had conflicting feelings about slavery and these can be felt in her writing, giving this book a tension and urgency missing from most of her other prose. Was she made more or less sympathetic by her own life of constant struggle against the bounds that 17th Century England placed on the ambitions of women? Who can say, but she does seem to empathise with her African protaganists to a degree that is remarkable.