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The Wizard (The Wizard Knight book 2) by Gene Wolfe

01/04/2005. Contributed by Pauline Morgan

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pub: TOR. 477 page hardback. Price: $25.95 (US). $35.95 (CAN). ISBN: 0-765-31201-8. 430 page enlarged paperback. Price: $14.95 (US), $21.95 (CAN). ISBN: 0-765-31348-0.

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It is unusual for a novel to be written in two parts when three or more are the norm. The alternative is in cases such as Peter Hamilton or Stephen King where massive, thousand plus pages are welded into a huge tome. Parts is obviously potentially the more profitable option as the reader has to pay twice. It may be useful to the author as well, providing a longer space between initial concept and the printing of the second volume. This works well if the book has been planned as an entity in detail. Not so good if the developments in the second half lead the author to wish they could revise volume one and dig themselves out of a hole. This is the problem inherent in many series of books involving the same characters and a continuing storyline. There can be occasions when the plot is constrained by events in earlier volumes. Readers are very quick to pick up inconsistencies.

What do you call a two book sequence? If three is a trilogy, should it be a biology or a duology? Some have called 'The Wizard Knight' a diptych. This is a good description if there is a degree of mirroring in the two halves. The first volume, 'The Knight', has as its protagonist a boy of unknown age who finds himself in a fantasy world resembling in structure that of North Myths. There are many similarities but he finds himself in the guise of a medieval knight. The juxtaposition of the chivalric and the barbaric can easily be resolved as the creation of youthful mind. Calling himself Able of the High Heart, he faces danger, meets the love of his life and wins his spurs. At the end of this volume, Able is taken up to the next level called Skai. In the eyes of those he has left behind, he is dead. This may also be a reflection of the life he lived before being drawn into this fantasy world. The brother he left behind and towards whom this story is directed may also regard him as effectively dead.

At the start of 'The Wizard', Able returns to Mythgarthr, the forth level. Although he has spent twenty years in Skai, he has not aged and returns only days after he left. This is because the lower you go through the seven levels, the slower is the passage of time. Able returns to take up position guarding a pass through the mountains and to fulfil an oath. Meanwhile, some of the characters he met in the previous volume are arriving at Utgard, the home of the Angrborn, the descendants of Frost Giants thrown out of their region of Skai. Their hope is to make a peace between giants and men. Able tells us he knows what happens in these passages because someone later told him.

Throughout the novel, Able periodically reminds us that he is really a boy in man's armour. This constantly reminds the reader that there is something else going on within the novel and that inconsistencies can be put down, not just to a youth's memory and inexperience but probably to the complexity of his imagination. An adult would be less likely to so obviously mix influences.

The problem was that despite the excellent writing and descriptions, it began to pall after a while as a resolution to the situation the youngster had found himself in never came any closer. A couple of hints were given. At one point, Able spends the evening by a camp-fire talking to his mother who tells him all about his childhood. It could easily be imagined that this is how a person talking at a comatose person's bedside would manifest in the victim's internal world. Later on, Able is looking down over the land and sees a distant road, a glimpse into his original world and comments that his other self is in the ambulance speeding past. It is not enough.

There is a degree of mirroring of the action between the two halves of the novel. Volume One ends with Able ascending to Skai. Volume Two starts with him descending again. In both volumes, he visits the Isle of Glass which is actually the top of a tower sticking up from the lower world of Aelfrice. In both volumes, he descends to the lower levels. There are a lot of subtle ideas buried in the books but for most readers, they will be missed. Most of us want a good read, rather than something we have to re-read to pick out the nuances. That is best left to academics.

Pauline Morgan

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