The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps by Kai Ashante Wilson
Posted November 6, 2015on:
published Sept 1st, 2015
where I got it: purchased new
Demane is a demi-god stuck on earth, and the safest place for him to be is a guard that travels with a caravan. He can disappear if he needs to, he can hide is godly powers as medical field training, and the two teenage boys who follow him around assume his bottomless bag is some kind of magic trick that he will of course explain one day. Or not. He can only hide who he is for so long.
From the blurb on the back, I expected the story to take place more in the Wildeeps, that dangerous swamp that caravans must cross on their way to profit. Not a spoiler, the majority of the book takes place the night before the caravan and assorted guards leave for their trip. The owners of the caravan stock up on what will be needed for the trip, while Demane, the Captain, and all the other road brothers spend the night as they wish, some find solace in drink, others get their frustrations out in the fighting ring, others head for the brothels. It’s an evening of characterization, i guess you could say.
I imagine The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps will be getting a lot of attention because of the language used. Much of that attention will be polarizing, because you are either going to find the dialog and prose innovative and unique, or you are going to bounce off of it, hard. I bounced, and it wasn’t fun. Many of the characters speak in patois and or very contemporary style slang, which feels strange in a fantasy story.Demane struggles with the local language, often reverting to his native tongue when he doesn’t know the local words for things (it’s kind of funny in his case, because he’s using very technical, almost futuristic terms, which none of his caravan brothers would understand anyways). Because he struggles with the language, the owner of the caravan assumes Demane is stupid, which couldn’t be further from the truth. it’s pretty obvious the caravan owner looks down on Demane.
But back to the author’s language choices for dialog, let me give you some examples of the dialog in The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps:
. . . for T-Jawn sat up, asking “No, truly, mon vieux: From whom did you learn such mastery of the spear?”
“Nigga, it was some official shit you just did, almost beating the captain like that. That, my nigga, was straight up gold-plated LIKE SHIT.”
“Exigencies if FTL,” Demane answered “ . . . But most sapiens – even those of us with fully expressed theogenetica – haven’t yet attained the psionic phylogeny necessary to sublimnify the organism.”
I found this long novella (short novel?) very confusing. What was I reading? An inner city urban action story? A sci-fantasy? a grimdark epic fantasy? Yes, yes, stories can cross genre lines. I get that. I’ve seen it done very well, many times. But in this instance, it didn’t work for me. There are minimal descriptions of something called TSIMTSOA, which might be a philosophy, or something to do with genetics, or I really have no idea. There are flashbacks of Demane getting specific training from his great (many times great) aunty, who warns him about lines that shouldn’t be crossed because there may be no way back. there is something that could be a tear in space-time but I’m not sure. This is a world drowning in science, but because the knowledge is either hidden or forgotten, it is explained as magic and witchcraft to regular people. And the regular people seem just fine with that.
The dialog was incredibly jarring for me, and what made it even more discordant was the fifty cent words sprinkled into the exposition. The reviewer at IGN phrased it perfectly:
“Sentences aren’t so much overly descriptive as just strangely constructed, grammatically dense with semicolons and colons, and all around confusing at points.”
There are some very cool (if incredibly gruesome) action scenes at the end, when everything comes together and Demane has to hide who he is, or protect that which is most dear to him. Lines are crossed, discoveries (of a sort) are made. There is a beautiful relationship between Demane and Isa the Captain, and I desperately wanted to know more about Isa. I wish the novella was more of the compelling stuff (Demane’s demigodhood, his relationships, his family, the relationship between the demigods and regular humans, why science has been forgotten) and less of how much the caravan brothers stink from not washing, their festering wounds, their habits of drinking until they puke, and their general bitching and complaining.
It wasn’t just the dialog that turned me off. The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps is the very definition of a “boy book”. It’s boys and manly-men doing boy and manly-men things. Beating each other up. Going to the brothel. If this particular story is anything to go by, the world in which the Wildeeps exists is a world in which women rarely leave home.
Which all adds up to a story that is overflowing with potential, but ultimately didn’t work for me. What compelling storytelling there was was unfortunately overshadowed by jarring dialog and sometimes difficult to understand prose. But you know what? this WILL work for plenty of readers, and that’s great. According to the glowing reviews this novella is already garnering, this works really great for a lot of readers!