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The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps Paperback – September 1, 2015
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“This rich, delicately crafted world is stocked with vibrant characters… and supports a powerful story told in a delightful series of wrenching moments.” ―Publishers Weekly Starred Review
"[The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps] shows that fantasy still has some really fascinating places to go." ―Charlie Jane Anders, io9
“The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps... is the story equivalent of the shot heard around the world.” ―Marty Cahill, BookRiot
“A tale which is so dense and rich in its depictions of the various different societies and places that you end it feeling as if you've been immersed in its world.” ―Paul Simpson, Sci-Fi Bulletin
"Wilson isn't the first black writer to demonstrate the possibilities of mixing traditional fantasy tropes with African-American culture, of course, but few have concentrated so brilliantly on the linguistic implications of doing so." ―Strange Horizons
“At its heart, Sorcerer of the Wildeeps is a beautiful yet brutal fairy tale about gods and monsters, loneliness and love. At 208 pages, the journey may not seem far but it will stay with you for a long time afterwards.” ―Michaela Gray, Geek Syndicate
About the Author
Kai Ashante Wilson's stories "Super Bass" and "The Devil in America," the latter of which was nominated for the Nebula, the Shirley Jackson, and the World Fantasy Award, can be read online gratis at Tor.com. His story «Légendaire.» can be read in the anthology Stories for Chip, which celebrates the legacy of science fiction grandmaster Samuel Delany. Kai Ashante Wilson lives in New York City.
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Demane is a healer and sorcerer, working for a band of mercenaries who guard merchant caravans on the perilous road between market cities. Now, he must face the challenge of passing through the Wildeeps -- an enchanted jungle filled with deadly creatures virtually unknown in his own time and place -- where it will be up to him and his magics to keep his brother mercenaries, the caravan, and his lover safe.
I'll start up front by saying that I am white, and most of the fantasy I have read in my life has been focused on white characters, in an American, European, or pseudo-European setting. It felt good, to me, to read something different, that breaks out of that mold. A setting in pseudo-historical Africa, with a cast of all-black characters, and none of the expected conventions of pseudo-Mediaeval fantasy, felt refreshing.
I liked Demane a lot. In a world that was often graphically violent and explicitly gory, he is a gentle, nurturing soul who patches people up afterwards, and soothes their hurts and fears, but he can also hold his own in a fight. He holds his brother mercenaries in deep affection, respects women, and is unreservedly loving and and demonstrably affectionate with his lover Isa, who is the captain of the mercenary band.
I was also delighted to be reading about an explicitly queer protagonist, in a loving, mutual relationship. Such things are still unfortunately rare in popular fantasy, and I know it is rarer still to see such a relationship portrayed between two black men. A few of their fellows seem aware of the relationship, and don't seem to mind or find it strange (one, Cumalo, even seems to ship it). Other characters are explicitly homophobic, so it was sort of difficult to get a bead on how homosexuality is regarded in this world.
The writing style took some getting used to, swinging between slangy dialogue, formal poetic language, and unfamiliar polysyllabic words, sometimes in the space of a few sentences, and I think that may have affected my reading comprehension during the early scenes of the book. I don't necessarily think that is a bad thing. If readers never read anything that challenges them or takes them outside their comfort zone, they will not grow as readers, or learn to appreciate a wide variety of literature.
Much of the criticism for this book that I have seen seems to amount to "The characters used a lot of modern slang, and I didn't like it." I personally do not mind when characters in a historical or pseudo-historical setting use modern slang. Humans in general tend to speak in a slangy, informal way, especially among friends and family, so it makes sense to me that fictional characters would do the same. Unless an author wants to learn or invent a whole system of setting-appropriate slang, and teach that slang to the reader, using modern slang works fine. After all, these characters would not have been speaking English, so I see no reason not to translate their vernacular into ours. I thought the use of AAVE helped to highlight the fact that this was not the usually white/European fantasy setting or characters, and gave the text a different flavour.
I found the lack of female characters frustrating. The only female character to get a significant number of mentions and page time is Aunty, Demane's semi-divine ancestress, who trained him in the magical arts when he was a boy. Demane recalls and thinks about her often, though she does not take part in the action of the story. Almost all other women present in the text are nameless sex workers, and no mention of a woman takes up more than a paragraph or two of space. I don't see why the author could not have included women among his mercenaries in this fantastical setting.
The other thing that frustrated me, I cannot talk about without mentioning major spoilers for the end of the story. Suffice it to say that a very common trope involving queer characters came into play. But I guess I should have expected it, given the extreme amount of violence and gore in the text. I still could have wished for a better ending.
Overall, I found reading this book to be a positive experience. I would consider reading it again, or reading other books by this author.
The negatives of the book are few, but I think could make someone hate it. A lot of the dialogue is dense and sometimes hard to track. I can mostly understand French and Spanish, so the character that intermittently speaks in those was understandable, but if you don't it could be hard (he wasn't a main character, so not too bad if you miss it). Some sections I had to reread because it was so dense it was hard to understand the action. It's not a light read, and expects the reader to parse through a lot of jargon and concepts that are unique to this world without a lot of explanation. The homosexual relationship might turn people off, although it's not explicit.
Overall I walked away hoping to read more since I like this genre and the world was great. I'll definitely try some of his other writing.
Basically, it's about a group of black mercenaries escorting a caravan in a kind of pseudo-Africa. Two of the members of that mercenary group have a secret homosexual relationship.
The language used in the book is not easy to read, loaded as it is with unfamiliar polysyllabic words, but it is pretty and poetic. The dialogue is interesting. Rather than just use standard English for all the characters and label it "Common" or some such, the characters of a particular class speak one way to each other and other ways to other classes. For example, the rich merchant that employs the mercenaries talks down to the mercs and uses a lot of swear words, but he speaks more elegantly to his peers. When the mercenaries talk to each other, they use modern African-American slang, but are more formal and deferential when speaking to people from a higher class (when they speak to them at all). Some might find the use of modern language in a fantasy tale jarring, but I thought its use in this case was an effective demonstration and translation of the code switching.
The love story was fine. I found myself rooting for the characters, and that's always a solid positive. It just felt a little too familiar for me to give the book bonus points for it.
It's nice to see smart, strong, gay, black characters in a fantasy setting. I gave it three stars because the action of the book is occasionally hard to follow due to the author's tendency to suddenly stop a scene and go on to the next one, with no bridge. Combined with the difficult language and fully immersive world (with no exposition), it's not an easy book to "get." Those with patience, however, will be rewarded with an unusual and intriguing entry into the fantasy genre.
Most recent customer reviews
Sorcerer of the Wildeeps is a character focused fantasy that explores Demane’s interactions with his fellow caravan guards and his surroundings.Read more
This book is a nightmare to read.Read more