“The Wakeful Wanderer’s Guide to Disillusionment” by Jim Infantino

All fantasy writers are sociologists, creating societies that contain elements of our own world and exploring the possibilities for change. For most of us, the social and political setting is the background for the development of the characters. “Wakeful Wanderer” has it the other way around. The philosophies of the various groups are the main elements in the conflict that drives the story, and the main interest is created by the differences between the competing sects.

This is a thoughtful book about people who have been given the chance to create societies that will function according to their principles. Now they are faced with making these societies work in an imperfect world.

Thematic material is nicely blended in. You don’t often get as well entertained by a discussion of what a just society should do with a murderer whose actions were done in defence of his own group.  Like the characters of any thoughtful work, these people show unsettling echoes of our present society. Some of the arguments they use, I see regularly on social media.

The format of the book is a series of stories interconnected by characters, events and themes. Unfortunately, these are necessarily fragmented, jumping around in place and time, requiring readers to create their own mosaics. Since I have not read the first book in the series, my perception was flawed. Despite this, I enjoyed the creative function of building the story myself, because I was given enough clues, and I put them together as I wished, constantly juggling them as more information was revealed.

The strength and weakness of this work is the characterization. There are no villains, just people with conflicting ideals. Interesting, strong, but flawed characters. We enjoy seeing the external conflict from each one’s point of view. This makes entertaining reading but means that the story lacks suspense because just when we have decided someone really deserves to win, we jump to the enemy’s point of view and find that it is equally valid.

Finally, 200 pages in, an event of importance actually happens. The plotlines start to come together, and characters get to make choices. But then, just at the point where a normal novel would have the climax point, we are treated to a full chapter where people on the various sides sit and have a political argument. Once again, an absorbing discussion, but nevertheless…

A fascinating and enjoyable read for those who like their action on a philosophical plane.

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

This review was originally published on Reedsy Discovery.


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