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Gene Wolfe
The Wizard
Reviewed by: Katie Dean © 2005

Tor / Tom Doherty Associates
US Hardcover First
ISBN 0-765-31201-8
Publication Date: November 2004
Pages: 477; Price: $25.95
Date Reviewed: 31-03-05

Index: Fantasy  Science Fiction  Horror

'The Wizard' is the second part of Gene Wolfe's fantasy 'The Wizard Knight'. Anyone who has already read the first part ('The Knight') will find no surprises in its sequel. It begins exactly where the first part ended and continues in much the same manner; a catalogue of nonsensical adventures in a fantasy world. Wolfe's intentions are no clearer in this novel than in its predecessor and anyone looking for answers to the many mysteries that Wolfe has created will be disappointed. The two parts of the story are so much the same in essence that anyone who enjoyed 'The Knight' will almost certainly enjoy its sequel. Anyone who felt disappointment with the first part need not expect to find satisfaction in 'The Wizard'.Sadly 'The Wizard' is beset by the same problems that made themselves apparent in its prequel. Aside from the unwieldy length that would have resulted from publication in a single novel, it is difficult to find a good reason for splitting the story into two separate volumes. The second volume continues so precisely from the first that readers may feel the need to refresh their memories before commencing it. Some authors succumb to the temptation to reiterate what has gone before in great detail and risk boring the reader. Wolfe has certainly avoided this pitfall, but goes too far in the opposite direction and offers no pointers to previous events. However, he has maintained the oblique style that dogged the first part of the story so it is doubtful whether any references to past events would enlighten the reader to any useful extent.

As in the first novel, Wolfe has missed out on the opportunity to develop his characters in any meaningful way. He has set himself the challenge of portraying a boy trapped in an adult form and forced to live among adults. Unfortunately, he does nothing with this idea. We still do not see Sir Able visibly mature despite the incredible adventures he enjoys. The dialogue is still in places reminiscent of that of a child, but it is no longer by itself sufficient to convey Wolfe's tantalising idea.

The sketchy references to the seven layers that form Wolfe's fantasy world are scarcely better defined in this second novel. The first suggested that the reader would be forced to share in Sir Able's journey to understand the world to which he had been transported. This offered high hopes that all would become clear by the end of the second novel. Sadly, this is not the case. Wolfe's world remains as much a mystery by the final page as it did at the beginning. There is a skill to gradually unraveling a mystery in a manner that satisfies rather than frustrates the reader. This skill is not displayed in 'The Wizard Knight'.

Wolfe seemed to promise much in creating a world that contained elements of traditional myth and legend. Yet these references remain incoherent and under-developed. Wolfe adds nothing to the genre: there is no alternate understanding of mythical ideas and no development of traditions. More surprising still, the book fails to explore or develop its central themes, the characteristics of a wizard and those of a knight. It is too much to expect that the mere creation of fantastical places and characters can carry a story through one thousand pages on its own. It requires some kind of coherent world-view on which to build and Wolfe has failed to provide this structure.

In summary, if you are a true fan of fantasy and are looking for an imaginative romp through a strange world containing traditional fantasy characters, then Gene Wolfe should appeal. If on the other hand, you expect to find a little more depth in a novel of such length, 'The Wizard Knight' is one to be avoided.

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