THE SORCERER OF THE WILDEEPS
KAI ASHANTE WILSON (The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps #1)
$3.99 eBook, $12.99 trade paper, available now
Rating: 5* of five
The Publisher Says: 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.
My Review: It's tough to know what to say about novellas. I can't abide book reports disguised as reviews anyway, but some indication of the plot's effects on the reader are de rigueur. I don't want to spoil the pleasures of watching Demane's world unfold before a besotted reader's eyes, yet I need to tell you some things. Which things, how many, that's the rough part for review writer me.
I'm utterly ensorcelled by Demane and his post-apocalyptic Africa, peopled as it is by demigods, by descendents of FTL-traveling "gods," by the many-generations-removed descendants of these gods and the mere humans left behind by them. I am fascinated by the way Demane manipulates the spacetime continuum as he discovers the scope and the limitations of his powers as a demigod. I think Author Wilson deserves a Hugo and a Nebula and a Mythopoetic award for his delicate, acute balancing act in creating a magic system that's Clarke's Law writ small: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic:
“Exigencies of FTL,” Demane answered. 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.”
I'm also delighted that Demane loves Isa, the Captain, and is loved in return. I'm sadly convinced that the homophobia the men face in their future world is accurately portrayed. I don't get it. I don't like it. But I've come to believe that, for reasons buried somewhere in a human culture-generating gene, straight men are always going to be fearful of gay men. I've always agreed with the assertion that the reason is they fear other men treating them the way they treat women. It makes me sigh impatiently while sneering contemptuously. Get over yourself. If some deluded guy offers you sex, say no and move on with your life. It's an activity, is sex; gay is an identity, and a recently coined one like heterosexuality. Used to be it was just a private matter. I'd prefer to go back to that system myownself.
But here we are, an untold number of generations in the future, and the divide still exists. C'est la vie. And since that accords with my lack of faith in human nature's ability to change for the better, I respond to it as a heliotropic plant does to the sun.
When Demane listens, early on, to the Captain's voice, Wilson describes it poetically:
Captain lacked the power of speech, was capable only of song. He could stand dumb, gesturing, or else make incomparable music. Even in a monosyllable, it was possible to hear him struggling to tarnish his pure tones, hoarsen their rich clarity; trying to turn his vox seraphica into a thing befitting the vulgar, violent world of a caravan guardsman. But calliphony was as inseparable from the captain’s voice as blood from a living heart, and he could do nothing, try as he might, to make any utterance of his less than the loveliest you’d heard, or would ever hear, so long as you lived.That's both gorgeous and evocative. I love the sound of the words in my mouth as I read this passage aloud. It makes me wish I could hear the vox seraphica with my mortal ears. I also find myself eumoirous at Wilson's unabashed use of ten-dollar words. It's all too rare to find such vocabulary deployed in service of evoking emotions, not merely creating distance between reader and writer as a means of making the fantasy world more remote from reality. Kudos for that act of bravery on top of making your main character gay, Author Wilson.
And what gay love is made of!
His hand still lightly cupped the captain’s mouth. When he slid it away Captain turned vague, astonished eyes on him. They were the last shade of brown before black, color of coffee, and just now neither grim nor sad but wonderstruck. He was all soft-side-up for a change. And unplucked there on his mouth were kisses like lowhanging fruit, ripe and deeply pink.If that doesn't feel completely real to you, without reference to your or the partner's gender, your lover has my sympathy. For me that passage encapsulates the sensation and the perception of being in love with someone. The touch, the emotion, the perception of physical reality melded with emotional resonance, that's exactly how I respond to the man I fall in love with. It's glorious to experience, of course, but to read it is an experience as glorious still: Others travel this road. I'm not the trailblazer or rear guard, I'm traveling in company. There's peace in that sensation, and there's a sense of hopefulness. Navigation can bring me into contact with other men who feel this way hip hip hooray! And that's a gift from Author Wilson to an old fart...imagine what this sensation will do for a closeted young sufferer of homophobia's vicious rage.
All in all, I highlighted 17 passages in this novella. Seventeen. That's more than most entire long novels get from me! I highlighted them because they were exquisite, because I needed them to be part of the group mind that is Goodreads (where Kindle notes and highlights are posted). I want anyone who so much as scratches the surface of this book to feel the enfolding warmth and gentle, cool stroke of the hair from your forehead, the delight of being understood and valued as you smile your way through passages of deeply and beautifully crafted prose.
Though a mind twists and turns, most complicated of all things, the body is a simple creature, and prefers love and comfort, to be where it feels safe.I hope you, like me, will feel safe while in the Wildeeps with Demane.