After finishing his landmark Book of the New Sun series in the 80s, Gene Wolfe branched out in a new direction; going from a science fiction/fantasy cum confirmation/subversion of epic fantasy, to ancient Greece and a soldier with a head wound that has destroyed his short term memory. Wolfe produced two novels that seemed like bookends on a simple but profound shelf of ideas. Featuring Greek gods, a realistic presentation of life in the Greek archipelago more than 2,000 years ago, and a man coming to terms with a new perspective on life, Soldier in the Mist and Soldier of Arete are a natural pair opening and closing an enchanted and enchanting window in the soldier Latro’s life. It was thus something of a surprise when, seventeen years later, Wolfe produced a third Soldier novel, Soldier of Sidon (2006). Some surprises are welcome, however, even if their genesis is only partially explainable.
Riverland calling him, at the outset of Soldier of Sidon Latro sets out on a merchant’s journey down the Nile with an old friend, Muslak, and some new friends. One a river wife hired in northern Egypt for the journey, Myt’ser’eu proves delightful, yet mysterious female company. But not as enigmatic as some of the other men, women, and creatures he encounters. Egyptian deities just as perceptible as the Greek, Latro’s journey finds him meeting a jackal-headed men, a wax lady, and animals of dreams and nightmares—black panthers, snakes, and crocodiles among them. People and gods still playing games with Latro, the beleaguered mercenary in semi-retirement must again attempt to peer his way through what he perceives and what his scroll tells him he perceived to make sense of what his eyes and heart tell him is reality. A temple in the southern reaches of Egypt near Ethiopia purported to be able to cure his memory issues, once again Latro pins his hopes on his own will and the powers of the divine—even if they are of a human age older.