The Wizard Knight by Gene Wolfe is one of the best fantasy novels to appear in the last decade or so. The novel is split into two separate books, The Knight and The Wizard, but like Gene Wolfe’s classic BOOK OF THE NEW SUN, it’s really one big story split into separate volumes and best read back-to-back.
The Wizard Knight tells the story of Sir Able of the High Heart, a knight who is really a young boy pulled from our own world to Mythgardr, one of seven connected worlds that are mirrored on a combination of Norse mythology, medieval history and Christian theology. One of those other worlds, Aelfrice, is home to Disiri, an Aelf queen who helps Able towards manhood — even though he is mentally still a young boy inside a grown man’s body — and tells him to find the sword Eterne. Able, in love with Disiri, swears not to use any other sword until he finds Eterne, and sets out on his quest.
So far, this may sound like fairly standard fantasy fare, but Gene Wolfe does some really interesting things with this set-up. The structure of the seven worlds is amazing, impossible to summarize here, and worthy of a longer article. Sir Able, the main character, is a study of contradictions: as a young boy, he is filled with images of traditional knighthood, but at times there’s also a casual cruelty in the way he uses his suddenly strong adult body to get his way. There’s a large cast of minor characters, all of which at some point play an important role in the story.
The Wizard Knight hilariously funny at times and heartbreakingly sad at others. Parts of it read like a traditional story of knighthood and chivalry, and others like a meditation on the nature and role of deity. Gene Wolfe pulls from sources as diverse as Chretien de Troyes, Norse mythology and traditional high fantasy like J.R.R. Tolkien or E.R. Edison, and somehow it all makes sense and turns into a wonderful, deep, rewarding read.
It’s impossible to do this book justice in a short review, but if you have any interest in the fantasy genre, I strongly recommend reading The Wizard Knight. Or as Neil Gaiman put it: “Gene Wolfe is the smartest, subtlest, most dangerous writer alive today, in genre or out of it. If you don’t read this book, you’ll have missed out on something important and wonderful and all the cool people will laugh at you.”