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Soldier of Sidon    by Gene Wolfe order for
Soldier of Sidon
by Gene Wolfe
Order:  USA  Can
Tor, 2007 (2006)
Hardcover, Softcover

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Soldier of Sidon is the third - after Soldier of the Mist and Soldier of Arete - in Gene Wolfe's series about Latro, a skilled mercenary, who has traveled far, experienced many adventures, and been cursed by a goddess to forget each day's events (the curse facilitated by a serious head wound). Now Latro travels with his friend Muslak - a ship captain and trader - who encourages him to keep a journal, and regularly reminds him of who he is. Superb black and white sketches - in the same style as the wonderful cover image - introduce each chapter and reinforce the reader's perception of time and place.

It's a prolonged, rather dream-like quest on the Nile exploring unknown territories to the south, on the orders of the satrap, Prince Achaemenes. The story involves regular encounters with gods and goddesses, who are visible to the memory-impaired Latro but not to those around him. Accompanying them are two temple singing girls, wives for the period of their journey. Neht-nefret is with Muslak and Myt-ser'eu pairs with Latro. Also with them is Sahuset, 'a wise man of Kemet'. He carries with him a mysterious box, whose handles allow it to open from the inside. There's a scribe named Thotmaktef. Magus Qanju leads the expedition, and soldiers bring their number to a total of twenty-seven men and the two women.

There are many encounters - with different tribes, gods and goddesses - as well as adventure and conflict, in a tale rich in Egyptian mythology. Latro is assigned a sinuous slave named Uraeus as protector. There's a prophecy of 'the temple beyond the last temple' to be fulfilled, involving a scarab and a shield. There are gold mines to be discovered, and slavery, and rescue by old friends (now forgotten along with everything else). The company is split and reunited, and the story ends as a new quest is about to begin.

While the premise - a curse of forgetfulness and the modest hero's regular re-discovery of what he should know about his past, his companions, and his current surroundings - is fascinating, the story moves along slowly and subtly, rather like the Nile river itself. And though Soldier of Sidon can be read on its own, I suspect it would make more sense after taking in the first two books in the series. It has certainly left me curious about what's next for this amnesiac soldier hero.

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