The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps: A strong and original debut

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fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsSorcerer of the Wildeeps by Kai Ashante WilsonThe Sorcerer of the Wildeeps by Kai Ashante Wilson

In The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps, the double debut of celebrated short story writer Kai Ashante Wilson and novella publisher Tor.com, the sons of gods and angels walk the Earth and big caravans of merchants roam dangerous roads in search of riches untold. Demane is one of such demigods, and decades after his godly progenitors have chosen to ascend and abandon the world, he is working as a guard to a merchant caravan where his brothers, the other caravan guards, call him Sorcerer for his otherworldy abilities.

To reach their destination, Olorum, the caravan must first pass through the Wildeeps, a stretch of jungle in a land that sees little rain and the magic and technology of the long gone gods runs strong and wild. To pass through it Demane and the caravan must stay on the Road, which is magically warded against whichever dangers lurk near.

The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps is a short novel, but in its few pages Wilson manages to build a dense world which is heavily hinted to be our own planet Earth some thousand years into the future. Most of the caravan guards’ dialogue is heavy in street slang and throw the n-word vigorously at each other; one of the guards sometimes sprinkles his speech with French and another with a mangled version of what is either Spanish or Brazilian Portuguese. My expectations of what I was going to get out from this novel kept having to be thrown away to the dumpster because I kept getting blindsided by the world-building Wilson kept throwing at me, keeping me on my toes to make sure I understood what he was trying to accomplish as he sneakily let slip pieces and clues about the world and its inhabitants.

Distracted by a glimpse from the corners of his eyes, he lapsed into liturgical dialect. “Superluminal travel is noncorporeal: a body must become light.” A tall, thin man passed by: some stranger, not the captain. “The gods could only carry away Homo celestialis with them, you see, because the angels had already learned to make their bodies light. But most sapiens — even those of us with fully expressed theogenetica — haven’t yet attained the psionic phylogeny necessary to sublimnify the organism.”

Working within the constraints of not having hundreds upon hundreds of pages to develop The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps’s characters, Wilson forgoes the use of exposition in favor of dialogue to bring his secondary characters to life, leaving what few pages he has to develop Demane’s past and the character of Captain Isa, the only other demigod we get to meet and Demane’s lover. There’s enough depth to the world and the cultures that inhibit in it to suggest that more stories will be set in it, and in fact the author has already confirmed in an interview that he is writing another story to be (hopefully) published in 2016.

By far my biggest complaint is the spastic writing style that sometimes makes it difficult to read, though the style changes accordingly with what is happening and the context it is in. For instance, the quote above is from Demane’s explanation to one of his caravan guard brothers why some demigods are unable to ascend into the skies; at other times the writing isn’t as clear. There’s also a noticeable lack of women characters in the book but for the prostitutes the guards long for and Demane’s goddess mentor from his past whom he calls Aunty.

The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps is a strong debut for both author and publisher. The subtle world-building will require your full attention, and will punish you if you do not give it, and the implications of a world more complex that you are first led to believe will make you salivate for more hints of what exactly has happened to the gods — are they even gods? — long ago. Even though the writing style can at times be unnecessarily complicated, and the plot is fairly simple and unsurprising, this novel’s blend of fantasy and science fiction in what at first promises to be a typical sword and sorcery adventure is a good bet for Tor.com to launch its commercial publishing venture, and a good choice for those craving a shorter, original, read.

Publication date: September 1, 2015. Critically acclaimed author Kai Ashante Wilson makes his commercial debut with this striking, wondrous tale of gods and mortals, magic and steel, and life and death that will reshape how you look at sword and sorcery. Since leaving his homeland, the earthbound demigod Demane has been labeled a sorcerer. With his ancestors’ artifacts in hand, the Sorcerer follows the Captain, a beautiful man with song for a voice and hair that drinks the sunlight. The two of them are the descendants of the gods who abandoned the Earth for Heaven, and they will need all the gifts those divine ancestors left to them to keep their caravan brothers alive. The one safe road between the northern oasis and southern kingdom is stalked by a necromantic terror. Demane may have to master his wild powers and trade humanity for godhood if he is to keep his brothers and his beloved captain alive.

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JOÃO EIRA, one of our guests, is a student at the University of Coimbra in Portugal, one of the oldest universities in the world, where he studies Physics and Economics. Having spent his formative years living in the lush vistas of Middle Earth and the barren nothingness in a galaxy far far away, he has grown to love filling his decreasing empty bookshelf space with fantasy and science fiction books. For him a book’s utmost priority should be the story it is trying to tell, though he can forgive some mistakes if its characters are purposeful and the worldbuilding imaginative. A book with no story can have no redeeming quality though. João probably spends more time fantasizing about books than doing productive things.

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2 comments

  1. There was a lot of pre-publication buzz for this title, so I’m glad it didn’t fall flat for you. :)

  2. This sounds fascinating and yes, I agree with Jana that there’s been a lot of hype about this title. It’s definitely going on my to read list!

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