Reviews of Latro in the Mist (2003)
Review by jeremycellis (2006-10-29)
This is what Latro writes on the outside of his scroll to remind himself to read over his writings every morning. He has to leave himself this note because he cannot form new memories. Sound familiar? Yes, this is very much the same general idea as the film Memento from 2000, but this novel (actually a compilation of two novels, Soldier of the Mist, 1986 and Soldier of Arete, 1989) was written well before then. According to Wikipedia another book in this series, Soldier of Sidon is due out this year (2006), although I felt that the second novel, Soldier of Arete, pretty neatly ended the story.
On to the specifics. On one hand I found it really interesting, well-written, historically engaging, and a real challenge to follow a lengthy novel when the narrator isn't much help. On the other hand, the format was at times frustrating and the whole "I forget everything" got a little tiresome, especially near the beginning when most chapters were consumed by notes from Latro to himself explaining that he can't remember anything. Gene Wolfe seems to enjoy the relationship that the narrator has with the audience, as I've found his narrators are generally unusual in some way. In the New Sun books his narrator couldn't forget a single detail that he had lived through; in the Latro books the narrator can barely remember what happened a handful of hours ago, losing the rest to time, what he describes as the mist. In many ways I found myself enjoying the task of piecing together Latro's experiences into a meaningful narrative, flipping back in the novel over and over again to see if I really remembered hearing that name or that place.
This brings me to the one thing that I think really helped the Latro books be successful, which is true of Memento as well, and that is that the medium of the work inherently causes the reader to suffer the same ailment and fate as the protagonist. Wofle's writing keeps you slightly in the dark, and his method of opening each chapter with what has most recently happened, not what you just finished reading about, before moving back in time and catching up with this new present keeps you on your toes. This is why I like reading post-modern novels and novels that share many characteristics with a post-modern novel, such as this one: the effort that the reader must give to the reading and the ability and responsibility to help create the art.
Lastly, it was interesting to read what could be very loosely constructed as an historical novel. Set in ancient Greece, Wolfe does a fairly good job of helping the reader through difficult geography and cultures without giving away the game too much. He gives us many details which are likely true (I'll admit that I'm nothing close to a Grecian scholar, but what I read of Wolfe is that he likes to bleed history into his fiction) and many rough sketches of life in Greece around the turn of the calendars from BCE to CE. These details never seem to intrude on the story, only to enhance or flush out a given moment.
Overall, I would recommend this novel to others, but keep in mind that it is not a passive read. However, I found it to be pretty rewarding. Yay for Latro.