Soldier of Sidon

Gene Wolfe
Soldier of Sidon Cover

Soldier of Sidon


It could be as much as 20 years since I last read any Gene Wolfe, which is kind of shocking to me. I considered myself a big fan, and own almost all of his work up to Exodus from the Long Sun, last book in the Long Sun series, which I inexplicably missed on its original publication, and I was never quite able to pick up the thread again. He was not well served by UK publishers, and didn't have a particularly wide range of ebooks available here for quite a long time (I bought this one as an imported paperback before the ebook became available), but it's true that much of the blame must be mine.

All I can really say is that it's good to be back. The earlier Soldier books were among my personal favourites, and this one still has plenty to enjoy, as Latro takes a trip up the Nile for some reason we never really seem to learn.

As is often the case with Wolfe, I felt like half of the book was going right over my head, but what's left is still plenty. It has a flavour like nothing else.

Latro is a Roman mercenary, in the days before the Roman Empire. He forgets every day, so has to keep a written record of his life to remind him who he is, and it's this which we read, under the fiction that it's a found manuscript. Because of his brain injury, Latro is not wholly aware of how strange it is to see and speak to the various gods and demons they encounter on the way.

The book ends kind of abruptly, like maybe there was meant to be another volume, but I'm not so sure. The fiction is that Latro has only one scroll to write on, and when it's full it's finished. I almost wonder if Wolfe wrote the story the same way, to a fixed length, and just stopped when he hit the end.

I genuinely feel that Wolfe might be a literary colossus, unappreciated outside the genre, and underappreciated within it. Too fantastical for the mainstream, and too literary for the genre. Soldier of Sidon might not be his finest work, but it's still right up there, and I really need to get this back-catalogue filled in. I've given it 4/5.