Kai Ashante Wilson’s 2015 The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps is set in the same universe as his A Taste of Honey (reviewed here).
Long ago, the gods fled Earth, leaving their mortal offspring behind. The demigods are too weighted by flesh to ascend, but have great powers in the mortal realm.
One demigod, the Captain, uses his gifts to lead a company of mercenaries. Demane, also semi-divine, is one of his soldiers. Demane is hopelessly smitten with the Captain and follows him despite having no real taste for the life of a mercenary. His fellow soldiers are wary of him; they call him a sorcerer, even though he tries to conceal his gifts.
Both men’s gifts will be needed to get the mercenaries and the merchants they are guarding through the Wildeeps. Well, at least some of the mercenaries and some of the merchants.
The road through the Wildeeps is the safest route through that magical forest to distant Great Olorum. Safest is not safe: bandits wait to relieve merchants of their wealth. Weird forest creatures also stalk travellers and anyone who wanders off the road may become dinner. The road is tricky; the route shifts unpredictably and can be difficult for mere mortals to detect. Travellers have only a reasonable chance of reaching Great Olorum and it’s very likely that some of them will die. However, the lucky survivors can grow rich from trade, so there are always merchants willing to chance the road.
Under normal circumstances, the Captain and Demane’s godly powers would be enough to see a reasonable fraction of their company through the woods. Now there is something new in the Wildeeps: tigers.
Jook-toothed tigers, wizard cats, are malevolent and intelligent apex predators. They can heal themselves of mortal wounds. Always hungry, always on the hunt, the wizard cats prefer two animals as prey: pigs and humans.
Demigods will do in a pinch…
In a weird way, the Wildeeps and its wandering road reminded me of Steve Gerber’s Nexus of All Realities. It’s probably for the best that the mortal folk don’t really understand what the Wildeeps are. There’s nothing they could do if the ancient Great Work were to fade.
This is super-science sword and sorcery, in which sufficiently advanced technology stands in for magic. As in A Taste of Honey, the demigods could explain scientifically the what and the why of their uncanny abilities. In this book, we learn why mortals insist on regarding these abilities as magical: mortals prefer superstitions to science. If you find this hard to believe, consider anti-vaxxers. And Moon Hoaxers. And Expanding Earthers.
Readers are used to spec-fic worlds (most with no connection to ours) in which everyone speaks English. Wilson takes this convention a bit further by using various modern-day dialects and languages to represent the dialects and languages of a far-off future. Readers should be aware that the argot of the future is liberally sprinkled with the n‑word.
The mercenary’s life, as depicted, is unenviable. It is usually the last refuge of the poor and desperate. Demane and the Captain are different; they could thrive elsewhere. But Demane is driven by infatuation and his Captain? most likely an adrenaline junkie.
Does this make the book sound like grim and gritty? If so, a caveat. Wilson embraces realism (well, as much as you can have in a world with super-science magic) but does not dwell excessively on the grimmer aspects of this world. Reading this book did not depress me. In fact, I rather enjoyed it.
Tor seems to be reinventing the Light Novel, publishing short books that do not require the investment of a significant fraction of one’s life to read. That seems fair, given that generations have lived and died waiting for the Wheel of Time series to finally come to a conclusion. As for Wilson’s two Wildeeps books … they are not just short, they are standalone; you can begin anywhere.
It just goes to show that there’s no pleasing some people that I wished this book were twice as long as it actually was. What the book dishes out is fine, but I wanted more. Please sir, may I have some more?
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