Scarlet Odyssey (2020) is the debut novel by C.T. Rwizi and the beginning of a new series, RED PLAINS. It’s an epic fantasy set in a world based on sub-Saharan Africa, featuring a group of young people who might have the chance to stop an evil plan — or might unwittingly put it in motion instead.
The central point-of-view characters are Musalodi (“Salo”), a young man who wants to learn magic even though his people forbid that study to men; Ilapara, a young woman who rebelled in the inverse way, by becoming a female warrior, and starts the novel working as a mercenary; Kelafelo, a woman whose village is destroyed by a brutal warlord, and who apprentices in sorcery in the hopes of taking vengeance on him; and Isa, a spoiled princess who will have responsibility thrust upon her unexpectedly. Also among the POVs are several shadowy characters who go only by titles rather than names, and about whom we learn more as the novel progresses.
The easy comparison here is to George R.R. Martin’s A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE series, which similarly alternates among multiple third-person narrators, each of whom has their own character arc while also giving the reader a look at what’s going on in their part of the map. (Rwizi also employs a Martinesque level of violence, so … you have been warned.)
The magic is interesting and has a futuristic bent to it. Some aspects of the system seem like straight-up magic, while others appear to be more like computer programming, and there are “tronic” animals that are part machine, whose origin hasn’t been explained yet.
The multiple POVs and the magical terminology are a lot to take in at first, especially since the POVs don’t intersect until later and the connection between them is not immediately apparent. There’s a learning curve to it, and it can be confusing in the early going, but ultimately rewarding. And some of the things that seem mysterious are that way on purpose. There were a few plot points I was sure I just “didn’t get,” and was pleasantly surprised when twists and reveals late in the book made them fall into place.
There’s a fair amount of setup at the beginning — which is probably for the best, considering all the info that’s coming at you — but once Salo is sent on a journey and leaves home, Scarlet Odyssey becomes difficult to put down. Danger is everywhere, and Salo will need to learn more about himself and his magic on the fly.
The main plot is left to be resolved in a future book or books, but Scarlet Odyssey finishes strong nonetheless, with a couple of big “Wow!” moments that make the end satisfying even though it’s not the end. I will definitely be reading the sequel. RED PLAINS is a promising new series by a promising new author.