Soldier of Sidon
by Gene Wolfe
Review by Colleen Cahill
Tor Books Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9780765316707
Date: 10 December 2007 List Price $14.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
[Editor's Note: This review was originally in our October 2006 issue.]
Some stories are so good that when you finish the book, you fondly hope the author will write another. While there are plenty of writers who give us a book a year following the same hero, some make you wait a while for the next piece of a great tale. After more than 15 years, Gene Wolfe has released a new book about Latro, a Roman soldier who is cursed so that he can only remember what happened since he last awoke. We know of his adventures because of some scrolls found in an archaic form of Latin, which Mr. Wolfe has kindly translated for our reading pleasure. In Soldier of Sidon, another of Latro's scrolls have been found, this time in Egypt. At long last fans of these books can find out what happened to Latro after he left Greece and if he has yet regained his memory.
The story begins in Egypt, where Latro awakens to find he is with Muslak, a captain of a ship who has sailed here at Latro's request. None of this is something Latro remembers. He soon learns, however, that Muslak was freed from slavery by his efforts and that the Captain is willing to do much in return. With the memory of why he should come to Egypt gone, Latro continues to travel with Muslak, joining a mission that will send the ship South to sail "as far as the Great River runs."
In no way is this a simple trip up the Nile. As in Greece, Latro has the ability to see gods and goddesses; he records watching a god brings the sun up and speaking to Hathor, goddess of music, dance and the arts. And as before, the deities give hints on what Latro should do, such as Hathor offering Latro her kitten that turns out to be a singing girl. This young lady is hired to be Latro's river wife and will be his companion on the long trip up the river. Under official orders from the Persian Prince, Muslak takes his ship South under the command of an Egyptian noble and with various others, including a priest of Set, the God of Chaos. There is soon consternation among the crew, as a mysterious woman is seen on the ship, as well as a large black cat. The noble and priest each has his own agenda for this trip and both are very interested in getting Latro on their side. It is a confusing time for a man who has to be taught his name each morning.
Wolfe takes us deep into a world of gods and goddesses, exploring the intricacies of the Egyptian deities and the politics of a country under foreign rule. As with the earlier two books, Soldier of Sidon is a finely crafted work full of intricate plots deep with shadows and mysteries. Not only does this book explore the religion and culture of ancient Egypt, it looks at the lands of ancient Nubia, which seem to hold a key to Latro regaining his memory.
Soldier of Sidon is a must-read for any who enjoyed Wolfe's earlier books and definitely well worth the wait. I recommend reading the first two titles before starting this one to really capture all the nuances of this complex work. Whether you waited 15 years for this or just found this gem, you will agree that Soldier of Sidon is already a classic.