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Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Scarlet Odysssey by C.T. Rwizi Review


Official Author Website
Order Scarlet Odyssey over HERE

OFFICIAL AUTHOR INFO: C. T. Rwizi is a young debut author who grew up in Swaziland and Zimbabwe. Gaining a scholarship, he received a BA in Government from Dartmouth College in 2014 and has since returned to South Africa where he works in his family’s local business. 

FORMAT/INFO: Scarlet Odyssey is the first novel in the Red Plains series. 47North published Scarlet Odyssey in July 2020. Cover design by Shasti O'Leary Soudant.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: I rarely enjoy epic fantasy told from multiple points of view, but I loved this one. Scarlet Odyssey offers enough fresh ideas to make the story addictive. It blurs the line between sci-fi and fantasy and finds inspiration in African mythology and culture.

The story follows Salo, a young man whose affinity for magic puts him at odds with the rest of his tribe. As the first-born son of a chief, he should become a warrior, but he prefers to read and study arcane arts. His society perceives such interests as feminine and emasculating. As often seen in coming-of-age stories, circumstances force him to embrace who he is despite his people’s disapproval. There’s a quest ahead of him and an evil plan to stop. People to meet, creatures to kill, the power to unleash. We’ve all seen it, true. What makes it exciting is Rwizi’s knack for characterization, unique world-building, and engaging plot.

The narrative introduces a complex and intricate magical system, unlike anything I can think of, and connects stories from the past with the present storyline. It even explores different planes of existence (like the Void). The remaining protagonists include Ilapara, a female mercenary who goes against her tribe’s ideas of male and female roles; Kelafelo, a woman with tragic past who apprentices in sorcery to destroy those who destroyed her life; Isa, a young princess forced to rule her people. There are other POV characters, but I’ll allow you to discover them and their connections to the main cast by yourself. Secondary characters include Tuk, a mechanical man, and a techno magical cat wreaking havoc amongst those who want to harm Salo. 

Rwizi’s characters feel complex and multi-faceted. They face convincing dilemmas, make mistakes, and learn along the way. I liked Salo’s and The maidservants’ chapters most. Salo’s story is most intimate whereas The maidservant’s one is most thought-provoking and painful. I applaud Rwizi’s skill in creating a three-dimensional antagonist, a monster you can’t help but understand and want to forgive. Even though I liked most characters, I feel the author introduced too much of them. Introductions of new players and tribes slowed down the narrative, and I’m not sure if all sublots were necessary. 

The book has a distinct African feel. I applaud Rwizi’s ability to use characters to show the complexity of society - each tribe has its own customs, norms, and even architecture (dry-stone architecture versus straw huts, for example). We get the real diversity and color, the feel of a primeval land and its inhabitants. As far as I can tell, the magical creatures that appear in the book (the tikoloshe, grootslang, impundulu, the ilombo, the konggamota) have a source in African tribes folklore. But we also get tronic beasts. A fascinating mix of magical and technological. 

The existence of magic makes this continent fraught with danger. Its people face the pestilences of tribalism and constant warfare. Things get violent and gory in places, and many characters stain their souls. As I went deeper into the story, I saw that not all was as it initially seemed. Starting with Salo’s and Ilapara’s struggles against their society’s strict gender roles, finishing with the direction of the plot, the author impressed me with his subtle touch and sound ideas. 

Good ideas and rich world-building require time to introduce. As a result, the story gets going around halfway through, a bit late if you ask me. As stated above, some sublots added little to the narrative and slowed down the plot. Even though all point of view characters grew on me, I didn’t enjoy them equally and my enjoyment of the story followed a sinusoid where I cheered for some, and felt slightly bored by others. The sequel will prove if the author was too ambitious or if he knew where ha was going. 

One more thing. The writing. It’s gorgeous and rich. But also dense and filled with vivid descriptions and long sentences. Some readers will need time to get used to it. I kinda loved it.

Scarlet Odyssey is the first book in the duology, and I can’t wait to put my hands on its sequel, Requiem Moon, due in Spring 2021. I found the book immersive, exciting, and difficult to put down. Try it.


1 comments:

Yaroslav Barsukov said...

Great review, as always—really makes you want to read the book. I love it when fantasy mixes magic and technology, and the African feel spices it all up.

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