Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Latro in the Mist

By Gene Wolfe. (This is an omnibus of Soldier of the Mist and Soldier of Arete.)

Zerothly: (Added) You know what? This is a really awful review. Here is a better one: Inchoatus review.

Zero and a halfly: (Update the Second) These books present parts of a journey more than they do a complete story. While Soldier in the Mist begins soon after Latro is injured, the others seem to begin, and all three end, at indefinite points in the story, with nothing really resolved. Soldier of Sidon, the third one, raised this thought in me: they are mere fragments. Will there be a fourth? I suspect that each one has had a narrative purpose, even if my critical organ is not sharp enough to discern it. (Other reviewers comment on the nature of innocence and memory that is revealed, obligations to society, to friends, to family...) Gene Wolfe has certainly left enough mysteries strewn in Latro's path to easily write more, but because of the number of years that passed between the second and third I doubt many of the ones from the first two books will be revisited. Here ends Update the Second.

Firstly: These are extremely difficult books to read, maybe harder than Faulkner. Latro loses his memory of events after about a day, and so must set down what happened in writing if he wishes to refer to it later. The result is that he has little understanding of what is actually happening to him most of the time. Forgetting names, he calls people many different things, and it is incumbent upon the reader to remember the people whom he refers to. There are also many names for the gods in the pantheon here and many archaic terms, such as peltast, kybernetes, and mantis.

Secondly: These are fundamentally sad books. Despite the frequent moments of happiness and the loyal friends Latro collects, I got the sense that ultimately he was being used as a pawn by the gods for their own games, careless of the hurt they did him. (His memory was lost, we are told, for an unknown offense to a certain goddess.)

I began Soldier of the Mist once before, but gave up when I concluded it was too difficult without a good knowledge of Greek antiquity. It is certainly very difficult and I am going to go look up what others thought it meant after I finish writing this, but this time I was pulled in by the story, wanting to find out what happened. Fast is probably the only way to read these; there are so many details only mentioned once or twice that you would have no hope of comprehension without taking notes, otherwise.

Recommended for someone who really likes a puzzle and enjoys Greek mythology. I can see how this book is great stylistically, but at the same time it's very taxing.


Martin LaBar said...

Well, maybe I should hold off on reading these.

Joshua said...

I don't mean to imply that they aren't good; they are excellently crafted. Reading the Inchoatus review that I linked to may provide a better perspective than I did.

As their review points out, these books place certain demands on the reader: a knowledge of ancient mythology and actual history (Wolfe dedicates the first book to Herodotus), as well as great presence of mind to discover what is actually going on.

Joshua said...

I should also say that I basically read them for entertainment or enjoyment rather than to get any deeper meaning out of them. So, they can be an entertaining read as long as you keep your wits about you.