Most fantasy -- or at least most of the fantasy I read -- takes place on a big map. The characters wander from city to city, country to country, and essentially take a tour of their world. Not so in Gene Wolfe's The Devil In a Forest .

This is a small novel, in every sense. Almost the entire thing is set in a very small village and its surrounding woodland; the cast of characters is largely confined of the village's dozen or so inhabitants, as well as a handful of outsiders; the story's effects (despite the misleading and wildly inaccurate back cover copy) are local; and the physical book itself is a mere 250 pages. The Book of the New Sun this definitely isn't.

Beyond its small size and scope, I'm not sure what to make of the book. It's an excellent portrait of a parochial medieval village: Wolfe conveys a solidity of detail to the place itself, and solidity of character to the people inhabiting it. The texture and ambience of the book are terrific. But it's a very low-key book, one that doesn't inspire great emotion or passion. I read it quickly and interestedly enough, but I wasn't turning pages to see what would happen, and never felt emotionally affected by events.

It's tempting to dismiss this as a popcorn book, but that's really not the right metaphor. It's more like a piece of stereotypical Baroque music -- technically precise, intricately detailed, making for a nice background ambience, but with no weight and solidity to it.


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