Soldier of Sidon: Wolfe and Latro have aged very well

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fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsGene Wolfe Soldier of SidonSoldier of Sidon by Gene Wolfe

Soldier of Sidon is the third book in Gene Wolfe’s Soldier series. Latro is a Roman mercenary who fought against the Greeks at Thermopylae. In spite of his battle prowess, he now wakes every morning with no memory of his past ever since receiving a blow to the head. Will Latro ever recover?

Gene Wolfe originally told Latro’s story in Soldier of the Mist and Soldier of Arete, published in 1987 and 1989, respectively, and later published together in 2003. So this third installment has been a long time in the making. Considering how long Latro’s story has been waiting, readers could be forgiven for expecting Soldier of Sidon (published in 2006) to be a disappointment. Fortunately, both Wolfe and Latro have aged very well.

Years have passed and Latro still cannot remember what happens from one day to the next, which requires him to record his story at the end of each day and to read about his past each morning. It’s an imperfect solution, but, luckily, Latro is resilient — and still quite dangerous with his beloved sword, Falcata.

In Soldier of Sidon, Wolfe sends his hero into Egypt rather than back to Greece. As Latro floats down the Nile, he meets friends, lovers and enemies, though he can rarely tell which is which. Poor Latro, he continues to be tested by gods, sorcerers, and soldiers, all of which is quite a challenge for a man who has no memory. It can be a little difficult for readers to keep up as well if they aren’t paying attention.

In Soldier of Sidon, Latro and his story move at a fast pace, but not so fast as to keep Wolfe from writing fantastically nuanced scenes. As per usual, there is a great deal to be inferred from the dialogue. One of my favorite scenes from Soldier of Sidon finds Latro’s deeds measured by the Egyptian gods — like most of Wolfe’s narrators, Latro is brave but he admits that he lies quite often — and he is nearly eaten by Ammit. If Latro’s first two novels were somewhat opaque for readers without a strong background in Greek mythology, Soldier of Sidon thankfully does not require quite as much expertise. Ammit has a crocodile’s mouth, and it doesn’t take much time in the public library or on Wikipedia to figure out that you wouldn’t want to be eaten by her.

Four decades into his career, Wolfe’s writing remains reliably rich and his plots full of mystery, swords, and dazzling damsels (who are not necessarily as distressed as they appear). As in the first two Soldier books, Wolfe does his best to tell Latro’s adventures without overlooking the day-to-day life in an ancient civilization. Soldier of Sidon is a fine work, and perhaps the best thing about it is that it leaves room for a fourth novel.


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RYAN SKARDAL, with us since September 2010, is an English teacher who reads widely but always makes time for SFF.

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