Notoriously, I am in the habit of re-reading one of two books, in alternating years. Usually in the spring, I either re-read Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast trilogy, or I re-read Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun. This year, following the death of Wolfe, I decided to change my pattern, and re-read something different (while I am also reading some of Wolfe’s stuff I had missed so far).
My only doubt was – what should I re-read?
In the end, I had two candidates: the massive The Wizard Knight, and the three books in the Soldier series. Both are great books, both I have read too many years ago, both are here on my special shelf, and both are books (or book series) from which I could learn something new.
And both are deep stories, multi-layered and full of secret passages, darkened nooks, false floors and hidden rooms. Something new and different is found with each new visit, each new exploration.
In the end what got me decided was the rather obsessive – and ultimately irritating – chattering about Mediterranean fantasy that’s swept my country in the last few months. I’ve got nothing against fantasy stories set in a Mediterranean setting – be it historical or pseudo-historical. I like the sub-genre and I have written stories in the sub-genre myself, and I plan on writing more.
What I find irritating is the boundless enthusiasm of the recent converts, people that found out about the idea of a fantasy without fake Vikings or Celtic elves six weeks ago and now can’t think of nothing else.
But even more irritating is this spasmodic search for the new brand to sell.
So, back to basics, Soldier of the Mist, Soldier of the Arete (both of which I have in the collected volume, Latro in the Mist)and Soldier of Sidon, by Gene Wolfe, usually known as the Soldier or the Latro novels – historical fantasy, in the words of Gene Wolfe himself, set in the Mediterranean after the battle of Plataea (496 BC).
Wounded at the head (?) in the battle, now Roman mercenary Latro (whose name means thief, or brigand) has some problems with his memory, and wakes up every morning with no recollections of what happened the day before. He therefore writes everything down – maybe.
Because Wolfe was a specialist in unreliable narrators, and therefore we can’t be sure Latro is not leaving something out.
A second side effect of his wound is that Latro can see supernatural creatures – spirits, nymphs, gods. Maybe they are real, maybe he’s just hallucinating.
While they fall outside of what I call the Fantasy Interregnum, these are novels that break with the standard template fantasy model that became popular since the mid ’80s – obviously, we might say, considering that Wolfe never conformed to templates in his work.
My doctor suggested I should lay down at least one hour every afternoon to help the circulation in my legs. I’ll take that hour, daily, to re-read Wolfe.
Starting right now.
I’ll keep you posted.