SORCERER OF THE WILDEEPS

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.

This novella very pointedly makes the case, IMO, for the victory of prose. Because (for me at least) the premise doesn’t appeal much to me: it suggests sword and sorcery, a very bro kind of fellowship (the book has no women, except for Demane’s aunt in flashbacks), and just not what I especially like. But because the language is so flowing and organic, it kept me reading long enough to appreciate the characterization and so read all the way to the end. (Also, ‘Super Bass’ which takes place in the same setting is what convinced me to pick this up in the first place, again on strength of its prose.)

Every night the brazen sphere dissolves in a molten line, compelling the gaze westward when the sky’s dark otherwise. With a similar compulsion, the least dampness in the driest wastes would seize Demane’s whole attention. No stopping at nightfall, nor for midnight, either: the caravan was still going after moonset. Under cloudless constellations, the camels trudged along the banks of a dead river, extinct since prehistory. They came to a stretch of arroyo where humidity hovered, where some deep spring leaked up even to the surface. Demane snapped the reins of his camel, hurrying the beast from midpack to the caravan’s forefront, where Captain rode.

Master Suresh kept watch on all such urgencies. He too brought his camel up abreast, in time to see Demane’s gesture and hear the offending word. “Water?” the caravanmaster cried. “Succubee of thirst and mirage! They have fucked out that man’s brains, Captain. Tell your fevered brother: this river died before the dragons burnt Daluça!”

I was surprised to see one of the blurbs reach for ‘lyrical’ to describe this novella, because it’s an inexact and not always suitable word – Nina Allan went into it here:

Although there is always a temptation to refer to her language as ‘lyrical’ – because it’s so descriptively intense, I suppose – the more I read of her the less this word seems to jibe with what’s on the page. Sriduangkaew’s visions are too fraught, too disturbing for that, and even the word ‘haunting’ does not wholly convey the discomfort that comes to sit with you as you read them.

Yes, I’m quoting a review of one of my own stories, but I think this is a good and relevant point – all of us go for ‘lyrical’ as an easy shorthand when it’s not necessarily applicable, and it has a flattening effect. I don’t think, then, that Wildeeps is lyrical. Rather it is suave, playful, tremendously well-fitted; it is controlled, perfectly, and meshes scientific jargon with the very earthy vocabulary of mercenaries. There’s a liveliness to the dialogue you don’t often find in similar sword-and-sorcery sort-of-gritty fantasy.

And gritty it more or less is, incorporating the usual mercenaries swearing a lot, the obligatory talk of whores (‘They would all reach the next wells alive, said Master Suresh, so long as grown men didn’t sit and weep, boo hoo hoo like some sad whore, her six best boys lost this week to marriage. We must do now as she did then: dry the tears, and hustle!), the obligatory sex trafficking and the protagonist being horrified at it, since he comes from an egalitarian society that treats queerness as normative and women doing whatever they like is the perfectly normal thing as opposed to where he is currently traveling. As I said, there’s simply no women here though – logically enough – there’s a fair number of queer men. The protagonist Demane and Captain Isa being lovers, though they do have to hide the fact, surrounded as they are by toxic masculinity. The characterization is very good.

The shape of the novella is peculiar in that it suggests a conventional plot-arc, and then interrupts it by – well, stopping. The ending comes very abruptly, just sort of snapping off and giving me the distinct impression that this would have worked much better as a short story; the nature of Wildeeps (focusing on a specific, intense event) would suit that structure better than what it is. I might even say it reads like a short story stretched out into a novella, though that’s not very fair, of course.

I did enjoy it very much overall, but I wish it’d been in a format that better suits it (and I could have done without all the epigraphs that show up too often in secondary-world fantasy, but that’s just me and in any case I skipped them all).

Advertisements