I keep almost saying this on the blog, but I don’t think I actually have yet: you need to be reading more African science fiction and fantasy. I don’t know if there’s an actual continental Renaissance going on right now or if it’s just American publishers trying to be more diverse and finally giving these authors a chance or what, but the number of good books I’ve read in the last few years by African or first-generation immigrant authors has been skyrocketing, particularly from Nigerian authors or authors of Nigerian descent, and you need to get in on this. In C.T. Rwizi’s case, he was born in Zimbabwe and currently lives in South Africa, and I’m pretty sure I bought Scarlet Odyssey based on not much more than the author’s name and that absolutely gorgeous cover.
I love it when that works out, and it’s funny that I’m thinking about discovering Fonda Lee’s Jade City much the same way, because I’m pretty sure The Green Bone Saga was the last time I was this jazzed about a new SF/F series. Yes, it’s that good.
If you’ve been reading me for a while, you have probably caught on to the fact that I am a sucker for worldbuilding, and Rwizi’s world is a lush, multicultural, second-world Africa, filled with magic that is in a lot of ways math-based— the way mystics officially become mystics basically requires them to derive a unique mathematical proof called an Axiom that powers and regulates their abilities– and wildlife with robot parts and a ton of overlapping political systems that are at odds with each other, alongside a religious pantheon that is just as multifaceted. Generally with fantasy you either get one or the other; you’re either dealing with kings and emperors or gods and demigods, and this series has both. I want to read a million books set in this world and I want to hear more about every corner of it, especially the bits that exist off the map that the book starts with, which are only hinted at here and there but which seem to have something entirely different going on from the vibe of the rest of the book.
The main character is Musalodi, an eighteen-year-old noble who wants to be a mystic rather than following his brothers into the warrior caste. In his tribe, magic and academics are generally women’s work, and yes I can hear you sighing over there but while this trope has started to get more than a little tiring in general, once Salo gets out of the reach of his people (I’m not going to tell you how or why) his maleness stops being an issue, except for the occasional person who recognizes where he’s from and knows how odd his powers are. Gender-swapped roles is kind of a theme throughout the book, actually; similar things will happen with a couple of different people.
While Salo is definitely the main character, the book employs a third-person rotating narrator style, over maybe eight or ten different characters, a couple of whom will eventually turn out to be the same person. The characters are scattered all over the world and several of them don’t encounter or even know about each other, so it’s likely that there will be some worlds colliding in the future. I don’t want to get too deep into the actual story; this is definitely something that you want to watch unfold on your own without knowing a lot about where it’s going. The short version is that Salo is going to come into his powers, and then get sent on a Quest, capital Q absolutely necessary, by someone who may or may not have his best interests in mind and whose motivations are deliberately kept somewhat unclear.
Oh God, y’all, it’s so damn good. The sequel isn’t due out until March of next year and I want it nowwwww. Go buy this and read it, please; I need somebody to talk to about it.