Saturday, February 18, 2012

Book Review: The Knight

I've been told by a lot of people that I need to read something by Gene Wolfe.  I've heard a lot of good things about the author, but I've also heard that his books can be challenging reads because he uses unreliable narrators, and hides meanings and such within the narrative, which sometimes I like, but other times I dislike, especially if I feel like I'm not "getting it", which can be an especially frustrating feeling.  So, I was a bit torn as to whether or not I should answer the call of the Wolfe.  Eventually curiosity got the better of me.

The Knight features an unnamed adolescent boy who gets magically transported from our world, into a magical realm.  Soon after arrival he meets a lovely aelf maiden named Disiri, and she hooks him up with the knightly name, Sir Able of High Heart, and transforms him into a handsome, muscle bound manly man.  She also promises him the magical sword Eterne, with the caveat that all he has to do is face down a dragon to get it.  With that, Sir Able promises his undying love to Disiri and sets off on his quest to become a great knight, and to find his sword of destiny.

A lot happens along the way, and reading The Knight sorta made me feel like I was reading someone play an RPG like Skyrim.  Like my rpg adventures, Able would set out to do one thing, then see something else that catches his fancy and head off in a completely different direction.  This tangential plot movement was a bit of a double edged sword because while it could be frustrating to feel like I was getting dragged along by a blundering imbecile, the plot never slowed down and the pacing was fantastic.

The Knight is told, for better or worse, through Able's first person perspective.  I definitely had a hard time trusting him as a reliable narrator though.  Even though he was magically given a man's body, Able is still very much a confused, sometimes stupid adolescent.  As a reader I was pretty much at his mercy for figuring out what was going on, and there are plenty of times when he doesn't describe things so well, or seemingly omits details, or just completely skips over things he doesn't want to talk about.  This led to a few "wait a minute..." moments where I could tell something was fishy, but wasn't quite sure what it was.

Because of Able's whimsical nature, his journeys take him all over, on land, sea, and even to different levels of reality, which are stacked on top of each other, and Mythgarthr, (the realm Abel got transported to), happens to be right in the middle of.  Along the way he meets some interesting people like Bold Berthold, a noble peasant who calls Able his brother.  Able also acquires some allies like a dog that is more than a dog, a sailor turned faithful servant, and many others.  You never know who he's gonna meet or what kind of situations he's gonna get into because his wanderings could lead him anywhere.  This free spirit-like approach to adventuring helps flesh out the world, and brings in some interesting characters that help add some life to the novel.

Despite tipping the scales at over 500 pages, I sorta feel like nothing really happened in this novel.  There's not really any plot to speak of the and the narrative is the definition of willy-nilly.  However, I still kinda liked it.  This book is such an enigma though; It's an enigma in the sense that Able's narration and recollection of events is sometimes accurate, sometimes misleading and sometimes veiled, but also in the sense that I'm not totally sure whether I liked it or not. I'm definitely torn as to whether or not I'll read the second novel in the duology, The Wizard.  Part of me thinks I should because it'll clear up all the confusion, and another part of me thinks I'll only be more frustrated.  The jury is deliberating in my brain.

For now I'll just say that my first Gene Wolfe reading experience was met with mixed emotions.  His writing chops are definitely quite good, but I'm not totally sure I'm all that into his style of story telling.  I'm gonna stew on it some more.  If there's other Gene Wolfe readers out there, feel free to try and sway me one way or another...

Grade: B-


Justin said...

Wolfe is definitely an acquired taste. It took me a long time to get through the "Book of the New Sun" series but some of the imagery still sticks with me. "Latro in the Mist" is on my reading list as well as "The Knight" although I'm not quite as interested after reading your review.

Ryan said...

I hope I didn't burst your bubble too badly on The Knight.

I can definitely see how Wolfe would be an acquired taste. Not sure I feel like spending the time it takes to acquire it.