The Wanderer (Chronicles of the Riftlands #1) by Rowan McAllister
After centuries of traveling the continent of Kita and fighting the extradimensional monsters known as Riftspawn, mage Lyuc is tired and ready to back away from the concerns of humanity.
But the world isn’t done with him yet.
While traveling with a merchant caravan, Lyuc encounters Yan, an Unnamed, the lowest caste in society. Though Yan has nothing but his determination and spirit, he reminds Lyuc what passion and desire feel like. While wild magic, a snarky, shapeshifting, genderfluid companion, and the plots of men and monsters seem determined to keep Lyuc from laying down his burden, only Yan’s inimitable spirit tempts him to hang on for another lifetime or so.
All Yan wants is to earn the sponsorship of a guild so he can rise above his station, claim a place in society, and build the family he never had.
After hundreds of years of self-imposed penance, all Lyuc wants is Yan.
If they can survive prejudice, bandits, mercenaries, monsters, and nature itself, they might both get their wish… and maybe even their happily ever after.
Book – The Wanderer
Series – Chronicles of the Riftlands, 1
Author – Rowan McAllister
Star rating - ★★★★★
No. of Pages – 200
Cover – Historical, Adorable!
POV – 3rd person, dual POV
Would I read it again – Yes!
Genre – LGBT, Historical, Fantasy, Magic, May/Dec
Content Warning – references and alludes to rape (nothing graphic), off-page beatings, slavery
** I WAS GIVEN THIS BOOK FOR MY READING PLEASURE **
Reviewed for Divine Magazine
I've been a fan of Rowan McAllister's work ever since I read their Historical Greatest Hits. I've loved everything they ever wrote, since then, and this is no exception. The Wanderer is a great fusion of historical and fantasy, combining romance, magic, and action into a novel that will steal your heart.
When it comes to characters, the story is centered on the two MC's Lyuc and Yan, as well as Lyuc's horse (bear with me) Bryn.
Bryn is actually a genderfluid other being. Bryn is created from the Rift, a Spawn from another dimension, but far tamer and more human-friendly than any of the others who slip through the Rift and must be hunted by Lyuc and sent back to their own plane. Bryn mostly presents as a horse, but has shapeshifting abilities, and appears as both a male and a female human at times, but is mostly referred to as 'he' when in his horse form.
Lyuc is an ancient wizard, once thought a God, who made a mistake centuries ago and is enduring self-induced penance to try to make up for that. As the creator of the Rift, he hunts the Spawn creatures who come through – often against their will and without any knowledge of the human world or how to survive in it – and sends them safely home. But, he's also a wanderer, travelling as an old man, who does little magic for fear of being caught by the humans who believe him dead. Both the King's witches, the Scholomagie in Samebar, and a secret organisation called the Brotherhood of Harot in Rassa, would cause a war in an attempt to gain the knowledge only Lyuc possesses.
Yan is an Unnamed, or Nameless. He is a child whose parents died or abandoned him and he was never given the mark of a Named – a tattoo on his wrist, to mark him as someone with a family, and the grace of a last name. For this, he's treated like a servant, the lowest caste in existence, and has no ability to refuse a Named anything. Even when that means being beaten, whipped, accused of theft, or forced to perform sexual acts. Yet, Yan's spirit isn't crushed. He's managed to retain a piece of himself, his personality, his anger at the unfairness of his position in the world, even when it gets him into trouble.
When it comes to the storyline, there is one recurrent theme and that's about Lyuc's past. He's in the human world to make amends for messing it up in the first place, hunting the Spawn and trying to keep the Rift from doing any more harm. He's hopeful – and it's mentioned as discussed frequently throughout – that the Rift is close to closing.
The secondary plot – though it takes more pages than the primary – is that of the romance between Lyuc and Yan. The reason it takes nearly 80% of the plot to explore is because there's a delicate political undercurrent to their communications. With Yan an Unnamed and Lyuc a Named, they have to make sure that any and all public meetings are considered appropriate. At the same time, Lyuc begins the book hopeful that his penance is almost over, that he'll be able to close the Rift and die soon, his job completed. He has no interest in starting something with Yan, no matter how many times the young Unnamed offers.
Part of what I loved so much about the plot was that Yan was the instigator in all things romantic. It started out slowly, with small acts of kindness from Lyuc and appreciation from Yan, then grew into a natural attraction. I worried, at first, that Yan only offered because he thought it was expected of him and because he wanted to repay Lyuc, which made Lyuc's reluctance more than natural and a relief. There was no insta-love, though it was clear they were both attracted to each other, but both had reasons to resist that attraction. The fact that Bryn had to shove them together, more often than not, was a really nice addition to the plotting. It forced Yan and Lyuc into situations where the chemistry was palpable and unavoidable, even if they did keep resisting it. It was a nice change from the urgency in most other stories to get the couple together as soon as possible.
There was no rush. I liked that about the plot. It dealt with small, but important, instances for the first half of the novel, then became more action packed and progressed towards the expected acts in the second half. It meant that the first half allowed us to learn about the characters, to explore who they were and what their goals were – Yan to get a better life, and Lyuc to close the Rift – and to appreciate the slow build of their chemistry and how Bryn fitted into that dynamic. The second half built on that information, adding a layer of complexity that forced Lyuc and Yan to leave the caravan they were travelling with and face the dangers of travelling alone and facing the Spawn.
While the plot is dual POV, Yan doesn't get his POV until Chapter 4. This is due to the fact that he's only introduced through Lyuc's POV and, at first, only in the role of someone that is preyed upon and little more than a servant. It's only when he gets his own POV that we get to see the strength inside of Yan and how he's much more than what society has made him.
The servant/master roles were used in a lovely plot point that brought them together but roles which neither of them were really prepared or willing to play. It was nice to see Lyuc's rejection of the very idea of Named and Unnamed, after all his centuries in the world and all that he'd seen, while trying to help Yan see that not conforming to the Unnamed demands on his personality and behaviour was no bad thing at heart, but that it could get him into trouble in the wider world. Seeing how Lyuc and Yan became better people when with each other was beautiful.
I loved the story and the characters, how it all came together and felt like a complete novel as well as the beginning to a series. The characters stole my heart right from the beginning – Lyuc with his weary-of-the-world mentality and Yan because of his feisty nature – and I never really got over it. Through all the action and the Rift plot, I was so engrossed in their relationship that I didn't mind the HFN ending. Though the Rift plot line isn't finished, it was pretty well rounded off for what Lyuc and Yan had experienced so far that it made sense not to rush it. It will continue in the next book and I can't wait to read that.
The inclusion of a Glossary was very helpful, right at the end, for clarifying things, and the fact that it was marked in the Table of Contents meant that I could bookmark it before I started and refer to whenever I wanted to. But, the story was so well explored and the world building well written that I never really needed to use it. Everything was easy to understand as and when it came along within the story.
Were there any down sides? Well, after the Acknowledgments there was a page that said “Map” but there was no actual map. Other than that, I had zero issues with the editing or plot gaps. Exactly the kind of dedication to attention to detail and world building that I've come to expect from McAllister.
“Astria of the Southern Lights, thank you for bringing me Lyuc. I promise to do everything in my power to show my gratitude and treasure the gifts you have given me, and to bring offerings every day to your temple in Zehir.”
“He'd done that. He'd made this thousand-year-old gorgeous wizard of immense power care enough to be upset by losing him. He would carry that knowledge with him forever. He could take it out and marvel at it in bad times and good.”