In Wilson’s lush debut, which launches the novella-focused Tor.com imprint, genre strictures are altogether overturned; magic and science and religion are one and the same, and the setting might be our world in the far future or another place altogether. The alien gods and angels left long ago, but their workings and their descendants remain, mingling with low-tech human cultures. Compassionate, lonely Demane is one of the gods’ great-grandchildren, a Storm Bird working as a guard for a merchant caravan. The man he follows, the enigmatic and tortured Captain, also has celestial blood. Demane must strike a balance between his unofficial role as the so-called sorcerer for the caravan and his inescapable heritage, building friendships with his young and ignorant fellow guards while sneaking in brief, tender trysts with the Captain. The Wildeeps is a jungle where the only safe passage is on the magically warded Road. But a man-eating monster is able to evade the wards, and Demane will need the Captain’s help to defeat it. In both narration and dialogue, Wilson wields a multitude of dialects with the brute strength and consummate skill of the Captain wielding his spear: “Always up in some damn water tryna warsh” and “superluminal travel is noncorporeal” and “she dragged herself airborne off turbulent chop” keep unabashed company, defying the reader to legitimize one over another. This rich, delicately crafted world is stocked with vibrant characters (though women appear only in the familial memories and sexual longings of the men) and supports a powerful story told in a delightful series of wrenching moments. (Sept.)
One of Wired's Twenty-Five All-Time Favorite Books
Critically acclaimed author Kai Ashante Wilson makes his commercial debut with this striking, wondrous tale of gods and mortals, magic and steel, and life and death that will reshape how you look at sword and sorcery.
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.
PRAISE FOR THE SORCERER OF THE WILDEEPS
"The unruly lovechild of Shakespeare, Baldwin, George RR Martin and Ghostface Killah -- this was a book I could not put down." - Daniel José Older, author of Half-Resurrection Blues
"Lyrical and polyphonous, gorgeous and brutal, THE SORCERER OF THE WILDEEPS is an unforgettable tale of love that empowers." - Ken Liu, multiple Hugo Award-winning author of The Grace of Kings
"Wilson is doing something both very new and very old here: he's tossing aside the traditional forms of sword and sorcery in favor of other, older forms, and gluing it all together with a love letter to black masculinity. The result is powerful and strange and painful in all the right ways." -N.K. Jemisin, author of The Fifth Season and The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms
"THE SORCERER OF THE WILDEEPS reads like Gene Wolfe and Samuel R Delany trying to one-up each other on a story prompt by Fritz Leiber. That means it's good. Read it." - Max Gladstone, author of the Craft Sequence
"Seamlessly knots magic and science in a wholly organic way... THE SORCERER OF THE WILDEEPS will catch you by the throat and hold you fast until the last searing word." - Alyssa Wong, Nebula-nominated author of "The Fisher Queen"
At the Publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management Software (DRM) applied.
This rich, delicately crafted world is stocked with vibrant characters… and supports a powerful story told in a delightful series of wrenching moments.” Publishers Weekly Starred Review
"[The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps] shows that fantasy still has some really fascinating places to go." Charlie Jane Anders, io9
“The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps... is the story equivalent of the shot heard around the world.” Marty Cahill, BookRiot
“A tale which is so dense and rich in its depictions of the various different societies and places that you end it feeling as if you've been immersed in its world.” Paul Simpson, Sci-Fi Bulletin
"Wilson isn't the first black writer to demonstrate the possibilities of mixing traditional fantasy tropes with African-American culture, of course, but few have concentrated so brilliantly on the linguistic implications of doing so." Strange Horizons
“At its heart, Sorcerer of the Wildeeps is a beautiful yet brutal fairy tale about gods and monsters, loneliness and love. At 208 pages, the journey may not seem far but it will stay with you for a long time afterwards.” Michaela Gray, Geek Syndicate
|Publisher:||Tom Doherty Associates|
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Read an Excerpt
The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps
By Kai Ashante Wilson, Carl Engle-Bird
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2015 Kai Ashante Wilson
All rights reserved.
Dear Uncle, I am minded to respond as follows, now you tell me that, in striving to retain our provinces beyond the mountains, Imperial Daluz squanders resources and troops we had, given the recent eastern incursions, much better husband: Let the whole ultramontane go. Let us, moreover, manumit every Harudes slave, allowing them all, as each one so desires, to return to his snowbound home. Having read this, and greatly astonished, you will doubtless exclaim: Who then shall plough our fields, and build our cities; care for our trueborn sons, and bear the bastards of our lust? For these questions, too, Uncle, I have the answer: Let us take whom we need from the Summer continent. The blacks of the northern coast are a peaceable and undefended peoples, the men sturdy, the women fine. Let us expand all our colonies there, and begin to cut down and export the cedar forests of Philipium; take for ourselves the pearl beds at Merqerish, the copper mines of Santa Caela. Fear not to awaken the wrath of the mighty Kingdom of Olorum, nor that of the gods of AshÃ(c) who protect it; for Great Olorum lies at the southern extreme of Summer, and if its coffers lack for bottoms, and soldiers number beyond count, still the Kingdom sleeps, and will never rouse itself over any act of ours so many thousands of miles to the north....
from Albion the Younger to the Elder, The White Letters, vol. 3, ch. 18
First of Seven
* * *
The merchants and burdened camels went on ahead into the Station at Mother of Waters. The guardsmen waited outside. Tufts of rough grass broke from the parched earth, nothing else green nearby. Demane squinted at the oasis. Palm trees and lush growth surrounded the lake, dazzle reflecting from the steely surface. Just look at her, Mother of Waters; was anything in the world more beautiful —?
"Sorcerer," said the captain, tapping Demane's arm. He got out of the way. Tall and thin, Captain escorted the caravanmaster to the front of the gathered brothers.
Earthy and round, the little man hopped up on a rock. "Your choices, gentlemen." Master Suresh l'Merqerim broke it down for them: "Leave us; and join some other group of saltmen going straight back north. Do so, and you go home beggars. Three silver half-weights are what you'll get from me, and not a whoring penny more. But permit me to ask: Who here has balls? That man I invite to press on with us! Hard men will be required on the road down past Mother of Waters, when we come to the Wildeeps, and later reach the wide prairies north of the great lady herself, Olorum City. Such men of courage as are among you, they shall know a rich reward once we arrive in Olorum. Loot, and more loot, I say! A whole Goddamned fistful of silver full-weight coins. In Olorum, I shall open up a heavy bag. You will stick a greedy hand down into it, and grab out just as much silver as one fat filthy fist can hold."
Nor had the caravanmaster quite finished. "We stay in Mother of Waters only for one night: tonight. Tomorrow dawn, this caravan hits the fucking road again." Suresh really could stand to slow down on the cussing. While it was true that most brothers showed purer descent from that half of the mulatto north supposedly more blessed with brawn than brains, and for the merchants it was the other way around — brighter of complexion (and intellect?) — did it necessarily follow that one group deserved fine speech, while the other should get nasty words sprinkled on every single sentence? "You motherfuckers came here on our coin, our camels. And while you lot drink and whore tonight, we merchants must sell the salt, must empty the warehouses, must pack the goods, must swap the camels for burros. Therefore — right now — I need numbers for how many mean to press on with us. Tell Captain Isa your choice: you brave, you venturesome, you men who are men. And may God bless the cowardly cocksuckers we leave behind."
The caravanmaster hopped down. From a sack, he handed out fragments of a slab-of-salt that had broken in transit. Plentiful chunks, which brothers could trade in the Station for room, board, and vice, went around. On his one free night, Demane wanted only to spend what a later age would call "quality time," not to run around Mother of Waters rescuing fools from folly. But even leaving aside those brothers intent on browsing the black market or the prefelonious with contraband themselves to fence, the very wisest plans Demane heard his brothers making were nothing of the kind. You had wantons looking forward to boughten love, tipplers to some beverage called "that Demon," gamblers to the local bloodsports ... The guardsmen grinned and said Thanky as their cupped hands were filled to brimming. Much could be said of Master Suresh, and not all to his credit; but he wasn't stingy. Bag empty, all the brothers' hands full, the caravanmaster headed off for the Station.
"Y'all do what you want," said Mosteyfa called Teef. "But this nigga here?" They called him that for the obvious reason: long, snaggled, missing ... "Is going all the way to Olorum." ... pewter-black, moss-green, yellow ... "My ass ain't tryna go right back up to the desert." ... cracked, carious, crooked. "A nigga need some rest behind that motherfucker!"
Demane felt much the same, crudity notwithstanding. A unanimous rumble rolled across the gathering of brothers.
"Anyone?" said the captain. His right hand pantomimed a man walking away, left hand waving goodbye.
"Come this far," said some brother, "might as well go on."
"I ain't never seen Olorum, noway," said another brother.
"Silver full-boys, y'all!" said a third. "Much as we can grab, y'all!"
Captain cupped one eloquent hand behind an ear, his other urging brothers to speak up now. There could be no change of mind later.
Nobody said anything.
So the captain pointed off the route to the Station — to a field of cropped stubble and petrified goat dung. "Drills," he said. "Throwing."
The brothers groaned. They complained. The two words sufficed, however, for them to drop their packs and scramble to join Captain — already run out ahead of them onto the field and waiting. The brothers shaped up like ducklings, all in a row with their spears.
Demane tossed a couple packs off the trail to the Station, over with the other baggage. Lately wounded, Faedou eased himself down, gripping his spear like a cane. He leaned back against the piled packs, good leg bent, trick leg outstretched. Around the back of his head some gray naps grew still, his bald pate shining like volcanic glass.
Looming against the light, Demane stayed afoot as though to see drills better. His broad stature cast commensurate shade down over his brother, seated. Sweating too much, breathing too loud, Faedou kept his face hardened against pain. The odor of infected humors coming off that bad leg stank such that Demane's sensitive tongue could taste the bacterial action in stagnant blood.
"You oughta let me take a quick look-see," Demane said, not for the first time. "I won't even touch my bag unless you say so. Promise."
"I told you, Sorcerer." Faedou threw an edgy glance up at Demane's bag. "I put my hopes in God."
After that last clash with bandits, Demane had tended the injuries of all the brothers save for Faedou, who, it seemed, feared the pollution of heathen arts even more than death by gangrene.
[Saprogenic possession], [antibiotic exorcism], the perils of [sepsis and necrotizing tissues] ... Demane had perhaps doomed Faedou, in speaking such terms without knowing them in a common language. To superstitious ears, nothing distinguished those untranslated words from the veriest babble of demon worship. "If that leg get too bad, old man, the only thing will save you is chopping it off."
Faedou rocked side to side. "Prayer and trust in Him. His justice and mercy: that's all I need. Maybe I'll wade in the Blood of the River soon. That's all right. I asked the Dove to come down to my shoulder long ago. Won't you ask Him too, brother? For it's said in the Recital of Life and Days — "
"Yeah, yeah, yeah!"
You had to catch them quick — these more religious northerners — or they'd go on that way for a while. Why not get the old man talking about something useful? Nobody except the captain had crisscrossed this quarter of the continent more than Faedou. And so Demane asked about the Wildeeps.
"A strange place, nowhere else like it. Rains a lot down there, but you get sick of it after the first couple days ..."
Demane listened, keeping an eye on drills. No matter how often he'd seen the captain's reckless feats of speed and skill, every time was still astonishing. Captain ran far out or in close, depending on the strength of a given brother's throwing arm. One at a time, they cast spears at him, aimed to kill. He either batted the spear aside or snatched it from the air, and dropped it to the dust. "Foul," he called or, if some rare effort merited encouragement, "Not bad." A brother ran to fetch his spear only after Captain had passed three men farther down the line.
"Wildeeps must be far away," Demane said. "Ain't much rain falling around these parts."
"Naw, they real close by." Faedou waved southward. "It won't take half a day to get there. See the Daughter?" Faedou pointed to the river that wound southwest, outflowing from Mother of Waters. "A few leagues south of here, Daughter runs into another river called the Crossings that goes straight west. Other side of the Crossings, it's the Wildeeps. You'll see what I mean soon enough. It don't make no kind of sense. North of the Crossings, the land's just like this: dried up, nothing much growing. On the south, it's all green. Thick brush, and elephant grass. Jungle. The Road pick up there, south of the Crossings." Faedou faced away and spat. "That's some more ole witchcraft."
"Captain said the Wildeeps dangerous." Do me a favor, D., will you? Get around to all the brothers and warn them not to stray off-Road when we come to the Wildeeps. Make every brother understand his life depends on obeying. It does. In the Wildeeps there is no safety, except on the Road.
"Well, there's beast and thing, Sorcerer. Terrible things — what God Hisself couldn't love. Last time I went through, I swear I seen ..."
"What, Faedou? What you see?"
" ... I don't know, man. Maybe I didn't see nothing."
"Aw, come on — what, Faedou? Don't be like that!"
In motion the captain had the look of a cheetah. Long-legged, swift, too thin. He whirled left and right, away from cast spears, catching some as they passed. At the last man in line, he began back the other way. Ten or so of these circuits was the usual length of drills. After long weeks of Captain's training, the brothers had the rhythm down. Everyone either threw, sprinted to retrieve his spear, sprinted back to his place in line, or else was bent over, gasping for breath.
"Something like a crocodile. But up on two legs, you know? Mouth just full of teeth! Each one as bad as a knife, Sorcerer. If that thing had bit you, it would of took out as much as my two hands could grab." Faedou put his palms together at the wrists, curving his fingers like fangs: clamping down on his own thigh by way of demonstration.
"Mighty big bite," Demane agreed. "Anybody else see this thing, Faedou?"
All earthly creatures shared a common scent, the tellurian signature. But (to Demane's nose) a rare few smelled also of the stars, as if some subset of their ancestors sprang from other dust than this. There were mortal men and women in the captain's lines of descent, yes, but the gods abounded too. That voice of his, for one; and who but a cousin descended from the Towers could manage such fast footwork? The captain was plainly too strong, as well, for a man hardly more than cord and bone. Demane reckoned that Captain cut loose this way at drills, and in battle, for brief respite from the terrible self-restraint he imposed on all his deeds, movements, and even speech at other times.
"Just me. But I ain't crazy, Sorcerer. So don't be looking at me like that. I seen it. In the middle of the night, I got up to pee. And seen it by the moonlight: right over in some trees. Standing close as that patch of weeds you see right there."
"Well, how come you didn't just wake up some —"
"I was scared, is how come. You should of seen that damn thing! Tall as the captain, Sorcerer, I swear it was. Walking around like anybody. Teeth like this!"
"All right, all right. So, what it do next?"
Captain was eating sunlight. Tasting the sun, rather, for he couldn't absorb much through that headscarf he always wore. Darkling about the captain's head was a heliovore's nimbus, a sort of counterhalo — shadowy, half-starved and imperceptible to all eyes present, except Demane's. I wish you'd take off that stupid scarf, Demane thought, not for the first time. What does it matter if they see your hair? You'd gain weight, strength, decades of life ...
"Nothing. Just stood watching the camp from the forest. After a while the walking-alligator went back up into the trees. But that's why everybody keep to the Road going through the Wildeeps. That bad stuff you hear about happen to caravans who go off-Road."
Demane said, "I don't see what the Road got to do with it."
"I told you. Witchcraft." Faedou sprinkled that word around like a cook sprinkles salt: applicable to any and every dish, useful for all occasions. Perhaps in some sense it was "witchcraft" when Demane waved his hand through a cloud of mosquitoes, and then nobody else was bitten the rest of the night. But was it "witchcraft" when some unlucky brother stubbed his toe? Or bit down on sandy grit in his porridge? Everything can't be witchcraft! "It's them magi live down by Olorum who made the Road. Put some kind of hoodoo on it: to keep off beasts and thing. But you oughta know more about all this demon-raising business than me. Right, Sorcerer?"
Demane sighed. Back home in the green hills, they had called him Mountain Bear for his unusual size and strength. On this side of the continent, he'd picked up another name, no matter how many times he said, I ain't nobody's "sorcerer," just call me Demane. He obviously tried for circumspection with the petty miracles, the intelligence gleaned from preternatural senses, the things pulled from his bag in broad daylight ... Still, he'd picked up a reputation.
Drills were done. Captain dismissed the brothers, keeping back the usual two. Demane tossed brothers their oiled goatskins full of water as they came straggling back.
Messed Up threw himself down in the grass and began to guzzle. Every time the caravan had stopped at wells in the desert, Messed Up had drunk to the point of sickness. And always, in the burning stretches between wells, he'd run short and had to come begging some of yours.
"Slow down," Demane said. "Not so much."
Teef said, "It's too hot for all this!" as he always did after drills. "Why the fuck Captain got us out here running around, throwing spears and shit, in the HOT ASS MOTHERFUCKEN HEAT?"
A couple other brothers — as they always did — said, "Amen. That's right. Why?" between sips of water.
Demane snatched the upturned goatskin from Messed Up's mouth. "How you gon' drink the whole thing straight down? You remember how you made yourself sick all them times. Act like you got some sense for once!"
"What do it matter, Sorcerer?" Once upon a time, Messed Up's scowl had only bespoken gormless passion. "You see they got a whole big-ass lake right there!"
"You forgot last time already? Throwing up like that? Belly hurting? You done for now." Demane slung his arm, squeezed his hand. A silver rope of water, airborne, uncoiled above the pale dust, and then darkened a long line across it. He tossed the empty goatskin back.
These days when Messed Up scowled, whoever had thought themselves hideous could take great comfort, now recognizing themselves as beautiful. For ever since a bandit's machète had sheared half Messed Up's face from his skull — seventy-eight catgut stitches, to reattach cheek, lips, chin — every mug was a lovely mug by contrast with that warped leer, pulling against its sutures.
"Aw, see there?" Messed Up howled. "Damn, Sorcerer!" He tumbled over backwards, like some twenty-stone baby pounding his fists, kicking his heels, against the dirt.
T-Jawn, with no such lack of decorum, lay back on a grassy spot. "I should so like to sit out these drills as you do, M. Sorcier." And, peering through the slatted fingers of a languid hand, he asked, "What is your secret? Do tell." The question, the exhortation, sounded rhetorical to Demane, and he made to turn away. But, nay: earnestly meant, for T-Jawn sat up, asking, "No, truly, mon vieux: From whom did you learn such mastery of the spear?"
Demane shrugged. "My Aunty."
Brothers fell out rolling in the grass. They joked. They laughed.
"Got my skills from Granny! Where you get yours at?"
"Was my wife learned me up. Old gal got a arm on her!"
Excerpted from The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps by Kai Ashante Wilson, Carl Engle-Bird. Copyright © 2015 Kai Ashante Wilson. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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