The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps has an extremely difficult job. It’s the opening act for Tor’s novella line; a story that has to not only stand on its own but establish the paradigm for the books that follow up. There are very few things lonelier than being the first one on stage and even fewer things that are harder to pull off.
Wildeeps is one of the two most extraordinary books I’ve read this year.
It follows Demane, a sorcerer whose culture and abilities mark him out as very different to the men he works with. Far from home, Demane has taken a job as part of the security detail for a merchant’s caravan. He’s done this because he needs the work, and the money, but he’s also done this because of Captain.
Captain’s voice is music, his words thrum with energy and power and he is powered by the Sun. Both he and Demane are significantly more than human and both choose to stand with painfully human men in an intensely dangerous profession. The two men are also, quietly, in love.
Wilson’s commercial debut is extraordinarily good at every level and simultaneously dismantles and honours the genre its part of with the same pragmatic humour and respect the men of Captain’s company have for one another.
The narrative follows the group as they embark on a particularly tough journey, menaced by a supernatural creature that, like Captain and Demane, exists both in and out of myth. That uncertain ground, and the tension that comes with it, permeates the entire book. These men are out of their depth and off the secure, quantifiably dangerous map of their normal working lives. At the same time, they’re deeply respectful, and unsure, of Demane’s abilities. To add even more tension, Demane and Captain feel that they have to conceal their relationship from their colleagues.
So what we have is a journey into unknown territory for everyone into the wilds between genres and the moments between life-changing, and ending, decisions. Captain’s men don’t know what they’re heading into, Demane doesn’t know where he stands with Captain and their employers have little idea of what the two men leading the company are capable of. In that light, the monster that stalks them is as much an embodiment of brutal certainty as it is an implacable predator and all the more threatening for it.
Wilson does all this with consummate ease, throwing massive ideas and subtle character beats at the audience with the same absolute confidence. He trusts us completely to get up to speed on the world ourselves and wraps everything in some of the most lyrical, measured language you’ll read this year. There are pages here whose structure is as beautiful as what they describe and Wilson uses every word he has to draw us further into this intoxicating, and increasingly dangerous world. As a reader, your attention can never waiver but with this prose, you never want it to. The world Wilson shows you feels coherent, expansive and most importantly, lived in. There’s no clumsy info dumping, no exposition, just a window opened into a very different, and yet very familiar, universe.
That familiarity is what cuts through the incredible language and protean, metafictional approach Wilson takes. This is a love story, a tragedy, a discussion of masculinity and myth and an exploration of the families soldiers form amongst themselves. It’s a meditation on whether there is such a thing as a glorious death and just what happens when happiness is sacrificed for peace or societal pressure. Most of all, it’s an astounding piece of fiction and an incredible debut for Wilson and the novella line alike.
Join me on Friday for an interview with the author, Kai Ashante Wilson.