No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Monday, October 19, 2015

2015/24: The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps -- Kai Ashante Wilson

A number of petty miracles lay within Demane's power. His reflexes, his strength, were rather better than even the most gifted of athletes; and his sense of sight and smell, and so on, could wax exceedingly keen at times. But the blood of TSIMtsoa ran thin in him, and it seemed he could not manage the metamorphosis into great power. Even so, provoke him enough, and the provoker would catch a glimpse -- radiant, dark -- of the stormbird.[loc. 502]

The blurb made this short novel sound like fantasy, but it's very much towards the sfnal end of that genre. Demane is an 'earthbound demigod', I suppose: or, to put it another way, he's somewhat more evolved (or engineered?) than most of the people he encounters on the road through the Wildeeps.

The plot of The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps is slight: Demane is engaged as 'Sorcerer' to a travelling caravan composed of wealthy merchants and the brothers who protect them from the perils of the road. The brothers speak colloquially, are strong and violent; the merchants keep themselves to themselves, speaking a different language (in which Demane is not fluent). And then there's the Captain, who Demane loves, who is a heliovore and a fearsome warrior and speaks mostly in musical tones.

Demane and the Captain are both outsiders, set apart by their heritage. Their ancestors have left Earth, abandoning them: 'the gods could only carry away Homo celestialis with them... because the angels had already learned to make their bodies light. When a magical predator (a jukiere, or wizard-cat) menaces travellers on the road through the Wildeeps -- where 'all the worlds .. touch and overlap' -- it's up to Demane and the Captain to defeat it.

So much for plot: what stands out in The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps is language, from Demane's inability to express himself to anyone save the Captain, to the rich patois of the brothers, to Wilson's lush, vivid, idiosyncratic prose. At times his style reminded me of Zelazny or Wolfe: he really is that good. Plus, the relationship between Demane and the Captain is wholly credible: they love one another but they don't always understand, or agree with, or have the same beliefs as one another.

In some ways this novel is a disappointment: it's too short, it stops rather than ending (there is an ending, but it's abrupt and I don't like it: though I'm all in favour of brevity over verbosity, I feel Wilson could have written just a little more. But I am extremely keen to read more of his work.

Here's a great article on 'Language and Code Switching in Kai Ashante Wilson's The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps' -- Leah Schnelbach.

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