Every so often I stumble across a fantastically wonderful new series that is flying under the radar. These are always my favorite moments as a reviewer because it means I get to stand on my little pedestal and become a town crier for a new series worth your time. Today I will be talking about the first two books in The Scarlet Odyssey, by C.T. Rwizi. The first book in the series shares the same name, and the second book is Requiem Moon. I think both books are very much perfect, and some of the most original writing I have read. The series packs the massive epic scope and feeling that I haven’t found outside huge ten book series. The cast of characters is robust with a protagonist that feels delightfully human and relatable and a supporting cast that is utterly unique. The story is mysterious, packed to the brim with adventure, and has a world and magic system that pulls from African lore and straddles both science fiction and fantasy. To save you some time, I will tell you right off the bat you should buy both of these books, and Requiem Moon is in my top books of 2021. Let’s talk about why.
Salo is a young mystic of his tribe, or rather he wants to be, but there are a few hurdles in his way. First, men do not become mystics—they become warriors. But Salo has never been good at conforming to his tribe’s expectations. For as long as he can remember, he has loved books and magic in a culture where such things are considered unmanly. Despite this, Salo has worked in secret on his axiom, a computer-like magical device that processes spells. If he can best the trial of the Redhawk, he can be blessed as a mystic and become a much-needed guardian for his village. He just needs a little push to put his plans into action. That push eventually comes when his village is attacked by a cruel enchantress and many of his compatriots are slaughtered.
Salo takes the trial of the Redhawk and passes, but this is just the first step of many on his path to magical power. As a condition of Salo’s unique status as a male mystic, the queen of his tribe sends him on an odyssey to the country’s capital. There he will complete a pilgrimage and learn of the recent political upheaval that the queen wishes to know more about. On the way to the city, he is joined by three fellow outcasts: a shunned female warrior, a mysterious nomad, and a deadly assassin. But they’re being hunted by the same enchantress who attacked Salo’s village, can they survive the harrowing ordeal?
Scarlet Odyssey has something for everyone in the best way possible. To demonstrate this, I will walk through the reviewers of the QTL and talk about why each of them will like it when I force them to read it. For Alex, who loves big ideas and themes, there is a lot here. The topics of Scarlet Odyssey are many, but one of my favorites is the discussion around the idea of suffering. Red magic, Salo’s magical source and the origin of the “Scarlet” part of the title, is fueled by suffering. That can be physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, or more. Experiencing extreme trauma can catalyze huge leaps forward in magical power or development. So, Rwizi’s world is filled with calculated cruelty. But, it is anything but mindless. Rwizi goes into great philosophical detail on the nature of suffering and how various characters view it. The books play with the idea of the necessity and benefits of suffering and provide a robust number of POVs with different takes. Rwizi’s prose reads like he is here to have a good time with a blockbuster story packed with action and magic, but there is real depth underneath it.
Speaking of which, Cole (who loves epic stories he can sink into), would adore these books. Scarlet Odyssey punches above its weight class in scope. Salo starts in a small village with distinct cultures. Over time we find that this village is a fragment of a county, which is a piece of a state, which is part of a country, which is a sliver of a continent, which is a small bit of a whole world. For example, the taboo against male mystics is unique to Salo’s region, and once he leaves his small slice of home the enemy mystics become a lot more diverse. Sometimes when writers design their worlds of this size, the areas outside the plot can feel vacant and empty. Odyssey’s story is one about isolation. The country where the majority of the plot takes place is isolated from the rest of the world due to its potent and dangerous magic. Other more developed nations have a Star Trek style no-contact policy to keep powerful technology from falling into the hands of those who also have powerful magic (also the Africa analogies here are both brazen and fantastic). As such, there is this underdeveloped gold mine of a nation surrounded by advanced nations that seek to exploit it. This easily layers in tons of political intrigue and results in the entire world feeling developed, relatable, and organic. All of this is done in two fairly short books.
Brandee will love the characters. The core cast is made up of a foursome of characters who end up on this quest together. Salo is the main voice and he feels rich and deep. He has clear strengths and weaknesses in character and his companions help him confront and improve his issues. This great treatment is applied to all of the companions which include a cyborg who is fleeing his old life, an assassin who is dealing with her split loyalties, and a warrior who is struggling to find her place in the world. All of them are having a coming-of-age journey that mirrors their collective pilgrimage and is poetic. The chemistry of the group is fabulous. They become friends, they fight, they joke, and they use their unique skills to push forward using the power of friendship.
Which leaves me. I love these books for all of the reasons I have already listed, but with the added bonus that Scarlet Odyssey is incredibly fresh. I read a lot of fantasy to review for The Quill To Live and I often read great books that are clever iterations of things that I have seen before. It is very rare for me to read a story like Rwizi’s that is like a pure cool breath of fresh air. Requiem Moon is one of my favorite books of 2021 and had I read Scarlet Odyssey in 2020 it would have been near the top of that list. Do not sleep on these books, check them out for yourself.
Scarlet Odyssey – 10/10
Requiem Moon – 10/10