Title: Sorcerer of the Wildeeps
Author: Kai Ashante Wilson
Since leaving his homeland, the earthbound demigod Demane has been labelled 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 the 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.
Sorcerer of the Wildeeps marks two firsts: it launches Tor.com’s series of novellas (with three to four being released per month from September 2015, this is good news for your inner bibliophile, but bad news for your bank balance) and it’s also Wilson’s commercial debut.
The immediately striking thing about Sorcerer of the Wildeeps is its use of language. Sumptuously evocative, poetic prose describes the lands which Demane, his captain and the caravan travel through in such beautifully rich detail that it feels like there should be a high definition label on the cover. In contrast, the dialogue is hard and coarse, formed of street slang and swearing. Rather than clashing, the different styles complement each other. This combination shouldn’t work, but somehow it does; like having a fruit cordial spiked with alcohol so it’s neither too flowery or too sharp.
Demane is wonderful subversion of a common fantasy trope; on the face of it a mysterious warrior, but underneath a kind and gentle man who dislikes violence and injustice, preferring to be known as a healer. Through Demane, we explore what it means to be lonely and that sense of not belonging. He has been alone for a long time, and even now that he has his Captain and the caravan, Demane is “other” on several levels; he and the Captain appear to be the last of their kind left on the earth, and while Demane loves the Captain, he does not always understand him and they cannot openly be together. Despite this, and despite the primitiveness of his caravan brothers who through superstition are unwilling to trust him to heal them with his magic – although we can see much of what they call magic is merely science which they do not understand – Demane is still fiercely protective of the caravan and consistently risks his life for his caravan brothers. It is clear that is he is deep down an idealist, but this is also perhaps partly because hiding his true nature among others is better than being alone. The deaths of those they lose weigh heavily upon Demane; death may come easily in this harsh desert life, but it is not given up cheaply.
As the story and the caravan continues through the desert towards monsters and danger, the stakes are raised to question what we are prepared to do in the name of love, whether that be brotherly or romantic, and how far we might go to do the right thing in the knowledge that in the end, it might not be enough.
The one thing lacking from Sorcerer of the Wildeeps are women. While this is a story about men and their relationships with each other in what is clearly a patriarchal society (Demane is at one point mocked when he tells his caravan brothers that his Aunty taught him to fight, despite the fact that apart from the Captain, he is the best fighter of them all) it is a shame that in all their travels (apart from Demane’s Aunty, herself a god-like being who appears briefly in Demane’s memory), there are no female characters of note, let alone with any agency.
However, it seems almost churlish to hold this shortcoming against such an original novella. 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.
Reviewer: Michaela Gray