Solder of Arete by Gene Wolfe

December 10, 2005 at 12:00 am | Posted in 4 stars, Book Reviews, Fantasy | Leave a comment

This historical fantasy is the sequel to Wolfe’s excellent Solder in the Mist. Unlike Wolfe’s other series, the Soldier books more or less stand on their own in the sense there is no gigantic cliffhanger at the end. On the other hand, it would help if you read Solder in the Mist before reading this one. For an overall summary of the character and setup, see my review of that book. This book is more of the same, which is a very good thing. That said, it is more opaque. On the Wolfe difficulty scale from one to 10 (keeping in mind the conversion factor…I don’t think Wolfe has ever written a novel easier than a 9 on a normal SF or fantasy scale) the first Soldier book was a 3 or a 4, with much of the difficulty coming less from narrative obfuscation and more from the lack of familiarity a typical reader, including myself, has with classical Greece. Solder of Arete still demands an understanding of ancient Greece I don’t quite have, but it supplements that with quite a bit of Wolfean narrative misdirection. It hits about an 8 on the scale (where Short Sun and Castleview are 10s and Fifth Head of Cerberus is a 9), I think.

Wolfe is infamous for his unreliable narrators, and Latro may set some sort of record. He is truthful, as far as I know, but there is a very, very great deal he leaves out for a wide variety of reasons. Wolfe cheats a little bit, in my opinion, in having Latro have all the habits of an ordinary person (since he wouldn’t be able to function otherwise) despite losing just about all of his memory. There’s some good reasons why this makes sense. On the other hand, Latro doesn’t have a firm idea of what is unusual, which makes the narrative quite difficult to follow at times since the unusual happens to Latro pretty much all the time, but he usually doesn’t realize it. I would think that someone who understood how to interact with people as well as Latro does would realize it is odd to be able to see and speak with people that no one else can see.

Even though there is a fair amount I don’t understand, it didn’t keep me from enjoying the ride. Hopefully the promised two sequels, when they appear, will clarify matters (but I’m not getting my hopes up…if anything Soldier of Arete muddies the waters of Soldier in the Mist). Ultimately, Soldier of Arete still comes together as a very enjoyable novel and one I would recommend to anyone who enjoyed the previous book.

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