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review 2020-06-18 13:20
'Scarlet Odyssey' by C. T. Rwizi
Scarlet Odyssey - C. T. Rwizi

'Scarlet Odyssey', a debut novel by C. T. Rwizi, scheduled for publication on 1st July, is an epic fantasy that twists the classic quest trope into something new and exciting. C. T Rwizi, who comes from Zimbabwe originally is another exciting writer adding to the growing body of African Science Fiction (think 'Rosewater' and 'Binti').


'Scarlet Odyssey' is an epic fantasy with world-building on a huge scale, spectacular new magic systems, warlords who use black magic that feeds off human sacrifice and complex political and tribal systems that are under covert attack from external forces who are fomenting division and violence.


C. T. Rwizi manages to keep all this spinning and still have a story that is mostly character-driven and which is fast-paced enough that the 559 pages flew by and left me wanting more.


The plot folds five main storylines together, each focused on a character who have in common only that they face challenges that require them to reshape themselves, often in painful ways. The paths of these fives stories spiral in towards one another as the plot unfolds.


The dominant story is about Salo who comes from a tribe where men are fierce warriors and women become magic-wielding mystics. As a chief's son, he should be a warrior but he has failed to pass the necessary tests of courage. He is also secretly practising magic and, when the tribe is in danger, risks becoming an outcast by going through a ritual to become a mystic. Salo is then immediately sent on a quest to the Kingdom of the Yontai, the political centre of their region, that provides the frame for the rest of the novel.


Then we get the story of Ilapara, a young woman from Salo's tribe who has left their land to pursue a career as a mercenary in the neighbouring, warlord-ridden Umadiland. Being a mercenary is not what she hoped it might be and she sometimes finds herself doing things she does not think are right so when she meets Salo in Umadiland she accepts a post as his 'muscle' for the rest of his journey.


The third story tells of The Maidservant a powerful mystic who is a lieutenant (known as Disciples) to the most powerful Warlord in Umadiland and who pursues and attacks Silo on his quest. The Maidservant's story is told in the current timeline, intercut with scenes that show why and how she came into her power and the heavy price she paid for it.


In the Kingdom of the Yontai, we follow the story of Isa Andaiye Saire, a young princess in the ruling clan who is about to have her life torn apart and find herself with responsibilities that she has not been trained for.


The external attempt to destabilise the tribes is being driven by the fifth character, a mysterious woman known as The Enchantress. We only get parts of her backstory but her view on the world is very different from any of the other characters.


Although 'Scarlet Odyssey' takes place on an alien world with two suns and seems to be in the far future, it has a distinctly African feel to it that distinguishes it from all those kinda-sorta Medieval Europe only with magic fantasy books that I've seen so many of. It's not just that all the clothes and names and some of the tribal systems and symbols are African, it's in the mindset that accepts that pain is inevitable, that we all fail, and the world is often cruel and or indifferent. All of the characters in the five main storylines carry scars and all are trying to force transformations that are likely to require sacrifice.


At one point Salo and The Maidservant clash and in the process learn a great deal about one another. In a more Anglo book, one of them would be good and the other would be evil. In this book, they both discover that they have done terrible things in their past, unforgivable things, to get them the power they now have. I liked that, instead of discussing guilt, or shame or atonement, Salo says that the only freedom they have is to choose a different future.


I also liked what happened when Salo is confronted with the reality of slavery. Ilapara, who has grown used to having the stench of slavery in her nostrils, initially thinks Salo's response is dangerous, naive and ultimately futile. All of which is probably true. Yet Ilapara recognises that Salo has brought more change in a day than she has seen in years.


I don't know how many books there will be in this series but I hope they keep coming at a pace. By the end of the book, all five characters are in the Kingdom of the Yontai and the stage is set for major change. I'm engaged with the characters. I can't see a simple way forward. I know there are many things I don't yet understand about this world. So I need the next book as soon as possible, please.

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text 2020-06-03 23:32
Reading progress update: I've read 12%.
Scarlet Odyssey - C. T. Rwizi

'Scarlet Odyssey' was my pick from Amazon's First Reads offer this month.


It's a debut novel from a young writer, born in Zimbabwe and educated in Costa Rica and the US and now living in South Africa. I was attracted to it because I've seen some great things coming from African Science Fiction writers in the past few years. This one takes the classic fantasy quest framework and weaves in new-to-me mythologies and has some novel gender-based divisions of labour - woman are the quick-witted ones who learn and wield magic, men are the ones who attack big beasts with their bare hands.


It's off to an excellent start with two interesting characters (who haven't met yet) some startling magic and a lot of action.

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review 2018-12-09 23:32
Book for Door 14 Hanukkah - "Binti Home" - love the writing - hate this publishing trend.
Binti: Home - Nnedi Okorafor

Let me start with a complaint so I can get it out of my system. I hate this emerging practice in Science Fiction to slice novels up into novellas and drip feed them to us.

I hated it with Murderbot and I hate it with Binti.


I was blown away by the first novella, "Binti" It deserved the Nebula and Hugo awards it won. It was a startlingly innovative novella about identity, about us and other, about fear and harmony, about how defining what it means to be alien also defines what it means to be human. "Binti" worked as a standalone, self-contained story.


It took two more years for "Binti Home" to reach us and, very disappointingly, it does not work as a self-contained novella. It's a sequel, so it can't be standalone but I did expect it to be self-contained. What I got is the second act in a three-act play.


It turns out it's a very good second act in what I'm sure will be an excellent novel but I wish the publishers had had the integrity to wait until the whole book was ready before publishing it. 


Ok, complaint over. 


There are lots of good things in this middle act of Binti's story.


It retains the freshness of the original novella. It doesn't reprise any of the previous action but carries straight on from where "Binti" finished.


It keeps the humour as well as the drama of the previous events and uses both to explore being alien. Here's what happens when Binti persuades Okuwu, an alien shaped like a massive jellyfish that moves through air rather than water an is always referred to as "it" to put cover its tentacles with  otjize, a mix of mud and oil that Himba women cover themselves with:

Covering them with so much otjize,Okwu told me, made it feel a little intoxicated.


“Everything is . . . happy,” it had said, sounding perplexed about this state.


“Good,” I said, grinning. “That way, you won’t be so grumpy when you meet everyone. Khoush like politeness and the Himba expect a sunny disposition.”


“ I will wash this off soon,” it said. “It’s not good to feel this pleased with life.”

"Binti Home" explores the issue of self and other from a new angle by following Binti's own physical and spiritual evolution from the Himba tribal girl she thought herself to be into something other and more than that.

When Binti returns home to restore her sense of identity as a Himba woman she is instead forced to confront the prejudices that shape her view of her homeworld and prevent her from seeing herself clearly. Binti's skill as a "harmonizer" is tested when she finds that it's her rapidly changing self that she needs to harmonize.

The tension builds. Revelations are made. Threats are introduced. Then the novella ends. Well, actually, it just stops.


So I'm going to stop as well. I have to go and read the third act, "The Night Masquerade", which I've just downloaded from the Kindle Store for the princely sum of £2.63.

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text 2018-12-08 17:39
Reading progress update: I've read 28%. - happy aliens who aren't happy about it.
Binti: Home - Nnedi Okorafor

One of the things I like about Binti is the exploration of what "Alien" really means and the discovery, along the way, of what "human" really means.


Binti is a young tribal woman whose tribe covers their skin with otjize,a mix of mud and oil that maintains their link to their land on Earth. 


Binti has persuaded Okwu, an alien shaped like a large Jelly Fish but moving through air rather than water and always referred to as "it", to put some on its tentacles. Here's how Binti describe Okwu's reaction:


Covering them with so much otjize, Okwu told me, made it feel a little intoxicated. 


“Everything is . . . happy,” it had said, sounding perplexed about this state. 


“Good,” I said, grinning. “That way, you won’t be so grumpy when you meet everyone. Khoush like politeness and the Himba expect a sunny disposition.”


“ I will wash this off soon,” it said. “It’s not good to feel this pleased with life.”



Okwu sounds like some of my French colleagues. Happiness is very nice as a temporary phenomenon, particularly when it arrives unexpectedly and without effort, but its meant to be transitory and pursuing it is pointless.



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text 2018-12-08 00:26
Reading progress update: I've read 20%.
Binti: Home - Nnedi Okorafor

Like the Murderbot stories, Binti was released as a series of novellas, three, in this case, that really equal one novel.


I was blown away by the first one, "Binti" and immediately bought the sequel, "Binti Home".


I then stupidly let it languish in my TBR pile.


I've dug it out for the Hanuka Door of the 24 Festive Tasks challenge because it's the second book in a series.


I'm having to run hard to keep up at the beginning of the second novella and I now wish I'd read them back to back.


Still, so far the freshness of the original Binti novella is still present and I'm intrigued to see where Binti will go next.

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