Title: The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps
Author: Kai Ashante Wilson
Narrator: Kevin Free
Length: 5 h 8 m
Published by Macmillan Audio
I'll admit that I've been in a listening slump for the past few months, but Tor.com and Macmillan Audio have come to the rescue with a new novella, The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps. This story woke me from my mental slumber, reminding me why I enjoy fantasy and science fiction so much.
The story begins as a band of merchants are traveling with their wares across dangerous territory. They have hired bodyguards to protect them, and it becomes immediately apparent that this society, whatever or wherever it is, has a similar black/white racial dichotomy as our current American culture. Fair skinned merchants form the upper-class, while those of a darker shade are expendable mercenaries whose lives are worth much less than those of their rich employers.
The use of the N-word at the beginning of the story was a bit off-putting and confusing at first - was the setting in present-day America or in some parallel universe? What was going on? But confusion was brief, as it was soon apparent that this was a clever device to help readers easily understand the social dynamic of an alien world.
Leading the band of dark-skinned "brothers" is the enigmatic Captain, a leader who demands 100% effort from his men, while giving 200% of himself. Although the Captain is admired by his men, he seems unhappy with his role as a respected and powerful warrior.
Another individual in the caravan is Demane, a brother whose skills at healing and other unexplained abilites have earned him the moniker of sorcerer, although that is not what he actually is. He, like the Captain, is a demigod, decended from supernatural beings who have left the planet for higher exestential delights not found in the physical realm.
This short novella is a mind-blowing, gut wrenching experience that manages to squeeze out all kinds of emotions in a very short length of time. I'd not heard of the author before listening to this book, but I'll be keeping my eye out for him and looking forward to more of his stories.
The adventures of the Captain and Demane culminate in the Wildeeps, a dangerous jungle that is traversed on a solitary road. An ancient magical spell prevents wild animals from touching the road and travelers are warned to never stray from the road's protection.
While crossing the Wildeeps, a demon creature stalks the caravan. It craves the taste of human flesh and the road's magic can't protect against this enchanted carnivore. It will take all that the Captain and Demane have to defeat this abomination, and in spite of their god-like powers, those powers may not be enough to defeat the magical beast.
Narrator Kevin Free does an outstanding job with this audiobook, vocally traversing a strange landscape with ease. He offers multiple dialects and accents to identify characters, and his delivery is confident, yet not overpowering. Some reviews discuss the strange punctuation or grammatical structure of parts of the story, but this was not apparent at all with the audio production. My only complaint is that at times, when the story breaks away from the present to share Demane's memories of his past, there is no cue or lengthened pause to let listeners know a time-shift is about to occur. This is only a minor complaint, as it becomes obvious fairly quickly what is happening with the story.
This is one of those stories that will stay with you long after it's over. I wanted it to be longer, wanted to know more about the culture, the people, and the world Wilson created. Alas, as that is not to be, it is a nice consolation to be able to listen to the relatively short story presented in this novella. The audio production provides a powerful listening experience that left me feeling as if I were a part of the story. I am so glad Tor.com decided to offer their new novellas in audio, as well as print formats. A big thank-you to Macmillan Audio for providing a review copy.