Susurrus by B. Morris Allen
No evil sorceress is born evil.
Susurrus begins as the protagonist Iskra staggers helpless in a desert, apparently near death. She is there to complete a rite of passage that was supposed to last one day. However, she believes she has been there for many days and wonders if she will ever escape. Soon, the story line drops into the past, and readers follow her development, beginning from when she was an innocent, starving orphan who is adopted by a traveling peddler.
Iskra has only one true goal in life. Magic and more magic. She tells the peddler she wants to become a susurrus, a child’s innocent, yet indicative mispronunciation of “sorceress.” She spends her entire life in an unending, selfish, laser-focused quest for more and more forms of magic.
The setting, true to the nature of a quest, spans many nations, each notable for the form of magic that defines the nature of the society. It is as if each magic is chosen to meet the needs of the community, perhaps mirroring the way some ancient societies chose gods tailored to meet their needs. The different nations are not clearly delineated, after all, to Iskra, only the magic matters.
The plot, although reminiscent of other more conventional, iconic quest stories, is unique in the nature of the ultimate goal. Magic is an intangible matter that can be said to represent a myriad of archetypical states such as greed or self-knowledge. Unfortunately, the repetitive nature of the time spent in each new country may result in lowered levels of reader excitement or anticipation. The time spent at sea could be shorter.
The opening chapters that tell of Iskra’s childhood are beautifully written in a dense literary style. When childhood ends, the prose loosens up and the speed doubles. This is a good thing because extending the opening style throughout the entire novel would have made for a concentrated read, something that may challenge impatient or harried readers.
To say that Iskra is an anti-hero is a gross understatement. It is as if she suffers from flat affect and thus appears to have no personality. She never seems happy or sad. She simply persists. Her unrelenting quest for what she wants leaves a trail of death and destruction behind her; magic, ships, riches, and revenge are all that matter to her. Nobody who cares for her survives. Her self-serving acts are so heinous that it is hard to believe many readers will care if she lives or dies. It is understandably hard to admire a character who could murder a new-born baby.
Perhaps there is an important reason that the author created a character who is so deplorable. It could be said that she is symbolic of the narcissistic, driven nature of modern man and countries alike——countries that quest for technology that might heal its citizens or destroy its neighbors——people who lust for more possessions, power, or riches. Are we all so focused on a search for what we want that we forget what is truly important——what it is that makes us human? What is it that whispers to us? Susurrus will leave perceptive readers wondering if they too are Iskra, wondering if their quest will end with success or if it will blow up in their faces.
Susurrus is a stylistic allegory, a commentary on the ills of modern society and therefore an illuminating read for thinking people.