After his village is attacked by a powerful witch, a young man embarks on a mission to awaken his own magical gifts to help save his people. That’s the set-up for Scarlet Odyssey, the debut novel from Zimbabwe-born, South Africa-based C.T. Rwizi, who draws on African myths and legends to spin his epic fantasy.
Here’s a longer description of Scarlet Odyssey—the first volume in a planned series—followed by the full cover reveal and an exclusive excerpt, both making their debuts here on Gizmodo!
Eighteen-year-old Salo, the son of a respected warrior chief, dreams of becoming a mystic, even though his tribe considers books and magic unmanly and expects him to embrace his father’s legacy. But after a diabolical enchantress attacks his village, Salo publicly confesses that he has created a mystical device that will awaken his latent magical powers, and he asks permission from his Queen, eager to prove that he can help protect his village in his own way. The Queen agrees to allow his awakening ceremony but commands him to travel across the lands north to the Jungle City, the political heart of the continent, in order to gather news of future threats.
On the way to the city, he joins forces with an unlikely band of misfits—a shunned female warrior, a mysterious nomad, and a deadly assassin—and their friendships grow as they learn to work together, despite their cultural differences. And their lives depend on their alliance, as they’re being hunted by the same enchantress who attacked Salo’s village. As the evil witch’s own dark history is revealed, it turns out that she may hold the key to Salo’s awakening—and his redemption.
Here’s a lead-in to the excerpt below, provided by the book’s editor:
“To protect his tribe, aspiring mystic Salo is sent on a quest to the Jungle City at the political heart of the continent. Along the way, he is joined by a shunned female warrior and a mysterious nomad. But none of them is prepared for the threats that block their path, and they’re about to meet a particularly gruesome enemy as they attempt to cross a large inland lake in the following excerpt.”
Get a grip! They can’t keep fighting like this. You heard what the Lightning Bird said: use the gift he gave you to save yourself and everyone else.
He slaps his face several times to wake himself up from his paralysis. Tuk and Ilapara are here because of him; they deserve better than a coward who won’t even try to defend them.
The staff in his hands is like a lens; he directs his scattered thoughts into it, and they come out more focused. Only then does he probe his mammoth new spell. Nothing at all like his other spell of Storm craft, which he can cast instinctively, without prior calibration. This spell requires that he understand the exact nature of the lightning barrier he wishes to summon: how much space to bend, what shape to bend it into, how much lightning—a thousand other such parameters. In fact, it isn’t so much a spell as a framework for designing spells; once he knows the parameters of the barrier he wishes to conjure, he could cast it at will just like any other spell.
But he’s never reached into the Void before, and right now he feels like a child dipping his toes into a vast ocean. Surely he isn’t expected to figure out how to use it to conjure space-bending barriers in the heat of battle? And surely he isn’t expected to then electrify said barriers with lightning, is he? It would take him hours at least to come up with anything even remotely practical.
By Ama, we’re going to die here.
Tuk spins away to evade the swipe of a claw even as he cuts into the clavicle of another wraith, his blade shattering bone and cutting through flesh across the chest. His other blade is already coming up to part yet another wraith from its head even before the first has crumbled to mist. Ilapara’s red veil swells with the wind as she swivels yet again, the point of her weapon arcing through the air like a sliver of light. Two tikoloshe lose their heads in a single strike, only for more to take their place.
One of them slips past her and lurches toward the bow. Black leeches cling to its pallid skin, and the weeds boiling out of its stomach are almost long enough to touch its knees. The deck trembles as Mukuni roars and pounces, batting the wraith into the ship’s netting with a fierce metal paw. But then another comes at him, and then another, and another. He tears them down with his teeth and paws and sweeps them away with his powerful tail. And still they keep coming.
Something moves behind Salo, and he looks. A tikoloshe with white fire in its eyes has slipped through the opening in the netting above the bowsprit. Salo’s nostrils catch the unholy fetor wafting away from it, and he almost gags.
Tuk shouts his name in the background, but he barely hears the call. Without thinking, he fills his shards with essence and unleashes Storm craft into his surroundings, commanding the winds to obey him. But the magic curves away from the wraith, and the winds blow harmlessly around it, like it’s cocooned in a bubble of space where the laws of nature will not obey Salo. Its white-hot gaze glows brighter as it moves closer, and Salo could swear the thing smiles at him.
He’s not sure what comes over him—maybe he suddenly remembers that he has trained with spears and sticks before—but when the wraith gets close enough, he grips his witchwood staff with both hands and thrusts its bottom end with all his strength. He feels resistance, but the staff breaks into an eye socket and punches through something soft. The next thing he knows, he’s standing in front of a haze of white mist.
“Salo!” Tuk shouts somewhere behind him. “Salo, are you all right?”
Wide eyed and terrified, Salo turns around in time to see Tuk pay for his moment of lapsed concentration. The young man cries out in pain as a tikoloshe catches him in the right arm with a claw, ripping a long gash that instantly pearls blood. He retaliates with a decapitating move and lets out a string of curses.
“We’re not going to last much longer!” Ilapara shouts next to him. “There are too many of these damned things!”
Salo knows she’s right. He can see a myriad of torch-like eyes drifting in the mists, slowly closing in on the vessel. But how the devil is he supposed to use his new spell to fend them off? The most useful barrier he can design at a moment’s notice is nothing but a small and simple wafer-thin geometric shape, and that wouldn’t even work as a protective shield unless . . .
Unless . . .
“I’ve got an idea!” he shouts as inspiration hits him like a lightning bolt. “Hold on just a while longer!”
Neither Tuk nor Ilapara has enough breath to reply, occupied as they are with stemming the tide of tikoloshe. Salo sinks his mind into his staff and lenses himself into focus. His thoughts accelerate. He awakens his talisman, closing his eyes to better interface telepathically with its high-speed core. Then he begins to string ciphers together faster than he has ever done in his life.
Excerpted from Scarlet Odyssey. © 2020 Published by 47North, July 1, 2020. All Rights Reserved.
C.T. Rwizi’s Scarlet Odyssey is out July 1, 2020, but you can pre-order a copy here.