Tuesday, 13 August 2013



A marvelously fluent, evocative historical & 1st of a series, from the well-known author of such sf/fantasy novels as Free Live Free (1985). In 479 BCE the combined forces of Thought (Athens) & Rope (Sparta) have defeated the invading Persians under Mardonius. Latro, a Latin-speaking mercenary with the Persian army (he also knows Greek & tends to translate place names literally) has suffered a head wound & lost his memory; he can't even remember from one day to the next. So, every night he records the previous day's events on a scroll, which he must then read the next morning in order to rediscover his circumstances & who his companions are (a splendid & subtle literary device Wolfe's careful not to misuse). Accompanied by the poet Pindaros, the slave girl Io & a black soldier from Nysa, Latro consults an oracle &, via a riddling response, learns the reason for his condition: he has offended a powerful goddess, the Earth Mother. So, at Advent (Eleusis) he makes obeisance &, after an eerie portent, is permitted to descend into a cave to chat with the goddess' Maiden aspect. Relenting somewhat, she offers him a choice: he may have his memory restored, he may return to his home city or he may rejoin his friends. Latro chooses the latter. In due course, then, Latro comes to Sestos, a Persian city beseiged by Thought & Rope armies; at last, Latro is addressed--in Latin--by a soldier who recognizes him, as "Lucius"; ironically, the soldier is on the point of expiring. Glowing, fascinating, intricate work, full of gods & ghosts & magical metamorphoses, set forth in a modern prose that agreeably captures the rhythm & spirit of the period. Those who prefer neat endings may be a trifle disappointed--but historical regulars & Wolfe fans will plunge right in.

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