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The Knight and The Wizard, both by Gene Wolfe

I am proud of my abilities with language, and seek always to improve. If I can ever reach Gene Wolfe’s skill, I will have ascended to a new world.

These are two volumes of one story, The Wizard Knight. Don’t wait a long time between reading them: it really is one novel, split for publishing reasons. This is a fantasy epic in the same group with Song of Ice and Fire. It’s hard to say it’s like Tolkien, because he did it first—but Wolfe here demonstrates that George Martin has collaboration. May their separate attempts to revitalize the fantasy genre succeed!

The story is that of Able, a boy from our world, who is drawn by the faeries into a magical realm. Wolfe establishes a novel cosmology of seven realms, from the Heaven of the Most High God to the Niflheim of the most low god. Between lie Elysium, an Asgard-inspired Skai, the central human realm of Mythgartr, fey Aelfheim, and dragon-flamed Muspel. Ties of veneration and obligation connect them. The cosmology is sufficient to enthrall, and is fully examined over the story. Able visits many of the worlds, interacts directly with beings from six of the seven, and significantly changes the reader’s opinion of the relationship between them. In many ways, the story is an excuse to re-examine the relationship between duty, happiness, desire, and worship. It says something about how adults should act in front of children, and the verdict of history.

Along the way, it’s a very enjoyable story. It jumps a bit too quickly for my taste in some places—a feature I’ve noted while reading other Wolfe books. He wants to get to the point, and sometimes it’s a bit jarring. You never know whether the end of a chapter will flow directly into the beginning of the next or skip a few months, though a chapter ending on a cross-world trip is usually a good clue.

This is a much more accessible introduction to Wolfe than the Book of the New Sun, but I find it hard to recommend one over the other.

Books read this year: 31