Book Review: Scarlet Odyssey by C. T. Rwizi - an amazing African-influenced fantasy

Book Review: Scarlet Odyssey by C. T. Rwizi

Title: Scarlet Odyssey

Author: C. T. Rwizi

Publisher: 47North

Publication date: July 1, 2020

Genre: Science Fiction and Fantasy

Summary: Salo is an outsider in his tribe despite being the firstborn son to the chief. This is because he is more interested in magic (women’s domain) than becoming a warrior (men’s domain). But, when his people are attacked by a witch, he has no choice but to convince his queen to let him awaken as a mystic. She allows it, but only because she plans on using him and sending him as an emissary to the Jungle City. Along his journey, he befriends a fellow outcast, a female warrior who grew up not too far from Salo’s people; a mysterious wanderer who isn’t entirely human; and a ruthless killer sent to protect Salo. But the witch and others are after him, trying to keep him from reaching the Jungle City. In the Jungle City itself, a princess loses almost everything as unrest in the kingdom spreads and suggests massive changes to their society.

I was drawn to this book because it has magic and a journey. After reading this on the heels of three mysteries, I was ready to settle back in for a nice, long fantasy read. I thought this might be a fast-moving book because of the journey along with a great deal of excitement because of the magic. I was expecting this to be a bit on the intense side. It turned out to be something of a different animal, but what a beautiful animal it was.

The Characters: Gender Role Defying

The characters were probably my least favorite part of this book, but that isn’t saying too much since I still found them interesting and loved getting their backstories so I could better understand them. I did love that each major character was given the chance to tell the story from their perspective with their own lens of the world coloring their storytelling.

However, compared to the world building and the story, they felt a bit lackluster. They tended to fall into set gender roles and it isn’t until later in the book, when there are characters defying those, that they started to be interesting. They didn’t feel quite as bright as every other element of this book, but they did help move the story along.

I did feel like there might have been too many characters. This is a long book. There’s quite a bit of meat to it. Which means I felt like some characters were shoved aside for the sake of the story. It seemed every part of this book was introducing one or more characters. Not all of them were a major character, but the ones the chapter was about were. There were several of them and I couldn’t always tell if the story “forgot” about them for several chapters because they weren’t doing anything interesting or if there just wasn’t enough space for them. The good thing, though, was that they were different from each other and served different masters. It was fascinating to see the webs and designs they created to help drive the story forward.

The Setting: Beautifully African-Inspired

The world building is what really made me fall in love with this book. I adored the world. It was vivid and made complete sense, and had an insanely perfect blend of science fiction and fantasy that couldn’t have made better sense. It was extraordinarily well-crafted with distinct societies and regions that still shared many similarities. Clearly, it was an entire continent divided into individual regions or countries.

I had no expectations of what the world would have to offer when I started reading. I did expect the typical Eurocentric world, so I was insanely pleased to realize this is African-inspired. In a sense, I felt like I was transported to Africa, felt like it could have been Africa, but it was clearly a fantasy version of Africa. I have no idea if some of the terms, especially for the animals and clothing, were accurate or completely made up, but it really gave me an African feeling.

This world swept me away. It was gorgeous. It had details and was sweeping. It felt like a fully contained world. I couldn’t help but want to be immersed in it. It is, though, a very brutal world full of bloodshed, but it was so unapologetic and still full of beauty. I think the world building was my absolute favorite part of this book and I couldn’t wait to find time to continue reading it. I’m anxious for the next book just so I can immerse myself in this gorgeous world again.

The Plot: Surprisingly Slow

I went into this book expecting something fast-moving and exciting. Instead, I found myself so caught up in the world building that I was about 40% of the way through when I realized it was really almost molasses slow. Seriously, this book is long and moves at a crawl despite all the movement in it. But it unfolded so organically and the world was so compelling that it was so easy to forgive. Until I hit somewhere around 60% and finally found out what on earth was actually going on in this book. Still, I didn’t care because it really was that gorgeous.

There are so many webs, so many machinations. It’s a giant game with tons of moving pieces. Actually, it felt like there might have been too many pieces, too many puppet masters. I thought they were all interesting and I wanted to read more about them, but the story was so slow and massive that there didn’t seem to be any time for them to really be seen much. It was a little disappointing and made this book feel almost too big and too close to collapsing on itself, but it was still a delightful read.

I loved that it unfolded naturally. Events happened because of what the characters did and who they were. It made the entire story make sense, almost was though I were reading the adventures of actual people. It all flowed nicely and the pace was actually decent despite how slow it moved. Every scene felt necessary, every pain, every battle. It all played an important role and really opened up the story so it could hold, barely, everything. Still, I did sometimes feel it was a little too ambitious, a little too much, but I can’t say I didn’t enjoy every second of it.

The one thing that bothered me was how brutal and bloody this book is. It is unapologetic and relentless. There was so much violence, so much pain, so much brutality and disregard for human life, but it all made sense. It all had its place. Usually, my eyes tend to skip over scenes like those the closer I get to the end, but there was something compelling about them that made me read almost every bloody word. Still, I could have done with less violence. On the other hand, it would have taken away from both the story and the world building and would have kept much of the characters and their development hidden. In this case, I would say the bloody violence was necessary.

Overall: The World Building is the Best Part

The world building is the high point of this book. It was amazing and unique without being too outlandish. It really drew me in, which helped me really get into the story. I wanted to explore this world along with the characters and watch how the story unfolded. It was a little too violent for my tastes and the characters weren’t quite as glittering as I would have liked, but this was still a fascinating and beautiful read, definitely not something to be missed if you love world building.

How many cups of tea will you need?

4 cups would be perfect

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Thank you to Netgalley and 47North for a free e-copy. All opinions expressed are my own.

Check out the Bookshelf for more of my book reviews.

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