Book Review: Gene Wolfe, Soldier of Sidon (Tor Books, 2007)

Gene Wolfe’s Soldier of Sidon (2007), third book in a series that began with Soldier of the Mist (1986) and Soldier of Arete (1989), continues Wolfe’s saga of Latro, the Roman mercenary in the 5th century BC whose head wound means that he cannot recall his name or his past adventures from day to day. In compensation, he can see and talk with the many gods of the ancient world. Tony Keen’s thoughtful review of the novel at Strange Horizons gives the detail I will not go into here. I want to make two points:

First, Wolfe’s predominant narrative technique, in which all the necessary detail is revealed, but in such a way that you don’t realise its significance at the time it’s revealed, and have to pay close attention to be able to realise its significance in retrospect, is perfectly suited to the tale of a man who comes to each situation, character and crisis as fresh as the reader.

Second, that much as I admire Wolfe as a storyteller and stylist, Soldier of Sidon continues a feature of Wolfe’s work that I find less admirable: he writes about societies in which females are subject, and sometime violently subject, to males. He writes about these societies outstandingly well, and his female characters are distinct, engaging, and within the limits of their subjugation, strong; but I’d love to know whether Gene Wolfe could carry off a novel in which women didn’t start at a pronounced disadvantage.

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