Soldier of Arete

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Latro is a mercenary who, because of a severe head wound or an enchantment, loses all memory of the past with the dawn of each day. In consequence, his last act before sleeping is to record the day’s activities in a journal so that he may refresh his memory when he awakes. This rather unique disability is, however, balanced by Latro’s ability to see and converse with the gods of ancient Greece. This is fortunate indeed, inasmuch as Latro is living in the Greece of Themistocles and Xerxes.

SOLDIER OF ARETE is apparently set in the period after the naval battle at Salamis but before the decisive Greek victory at Plataea compelled the Persians to withdraw from Greece. Admittedly, it is difficult for a reader to establish definitely the time frame of this work insofar as Wolfe is inclined to use what purport to be contemporary names for events and individuals who appear otherwise in conventional histories; for example, Athens is Thought, Corinth is Tower Hill, and Spartans are known as Rope Makers.

In SOLDIER OF ARETE, Latro and his companions from the previous work, SOLDIER IN THE MIST, with the addition of several new characters, journey from Thrace to Athens and then on to Sparta, where Latro achieves some semblance of respectability by being made a resident of Sparta. Along the way they make contact with Amazons, various gods and goddesses, and the legendary King Sisyphus as Latro endeavors to surmount deadly challenges in pursuit of recovering his lost past.

SOLDIER OF ARETE is not an easy work to deal with inasmuch as the literary structure does not afford easy access to the material presented. Moreover, if the reader has any knowledge concerning the record of the Persian Wars or Hellenic culture, the need to put familiar labels to circumstances described detracts from any enjoyment of the novel. In short, if read as fantasy this work is enjoyable and interesting; if pursued in any other context it is quite maddening.