After more than 15 years, Wolfe (The Wizard, 2004, etc.) returns to his historical-fantasy series (Soldier in the Mist, 1986, etc.).
Around 500 b.c., narrator Latro, a Roman mercenary, suffered a head wound and now can’t remember anything when he awakes each day, so he meticulously records his experiences in a scroll and must re-read it every morning. However, he is able to see and converse with ghosts and gods. Now, Latro sails with his friend, sea-captain Muslak, to Egypt—or so the scroll informs him—where Egypt’s Persian satrap has commissioned Muslak to explore the largely mysterious upper reaches of the Nile. Both Latro and Muslak hire temple prostitutes to become their “river wives” for the duration of the journey. In addition, Latro commands a squad of soldiers. Also aboard are Thotmaktef the scribe, Qanju the official and Sahuset the magician. Occasionally appearing—to Latro, at any rate—are a talking baboon and a huge black cat. In a coffin Sahuset keeps Sabra, a wax statue shaped as a woman, and when Latro draws near, the statue comes to life and demands blood. Later, Latro acquires from the shade of a former pharaoh, Sesostris, a slave, Uraeus, who’s also a cobra. A merchant, Charthi, asks Latro to make inquiries after his son, Kames, missing after traveling to the south in search of gold. The longer the journey grows, the more peculiar it becomes.
More teasing than demanding—the text abounds with sly references to Latro’s previous adventures; Latro, of course, doesn’t remember them and, likely, neither will his readers. Well worth investigating, but not especially purposeful or compelling.