A talented outcast with the ability to speak to animals leaves his simple, close-knit society to explore other lands, meet unfamiliar civilizations, and engage new ideas about love, reality, and death.
The Traeppedelfere are a cave-dwelling, mountain race, smithies and hunters with no concept of family but an intense need to be with others of their kind, lest they fall into a fatal trance known as drygeslaep. Immune to this condition is the hunter Monwyrt, gifted with an ability to call the beasts he hunts to him, at times even compelling them to obey his commands. In the forest he meets a Waeccelang, a legendary being that transcends space itself, whose own people once unlocked the full power of this ability to disastrous results. As an act of redemption, it now teaches new inheritors how to awaken and wield the skills of thought-reading, perception control, and immediate mastery of any language. While still exploring and developing his new powers, Monwyrt gives into the wanderlust that sets him apart from other Traeppedelfere, departing on a journey recalling Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, full of animals and societies both odd and alien in nature. Botkin’s (The Curious Incident of the Gooneybird, 2016) novel is split into two distinct sections, each written over 20 years apart, a fact easily apparent in their difference in tone. The first is a master class in fantasy worldbuilding, showcasing not just new races and creatures, but also creating entire cultures, complete with customs, laws, unique words, and quirks of language. These details allow even minor characters to shine, while further emphasizing the power Monwyrt wields in navigating languages. Much of this, regrettably, falls into the background in the second half—as Monwyrt’s travels end and he discovers the concept of family, the tale’s focus turns to his children’s developing powers and other gifted Traeppedelferes, along with the wonders and threats they foreshadow. There’s a pronounced eroticism and a greater presence of sex in this section as well, which feels particularly discordant with the first. But an unexpected and often dark sense of humor is present throughout, and there’s a real joy present in the book’s wordplay, from a delightfully simple invented swear word to whip-smart dialogue.
A fantasy novel creates an engrossing, original world, even if the story about a powerful wanderer veers off course in its second half.