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This book is actually two books in one volume. At the same time, it is only half of a book. Litany of the Long Sun contains the first two parts of a quartet of fantasy novels collectively known as The Book of the Long Sun. Within this first half of that greater book are the lesser titles Nightside the Long Sun and Lake of the Long Sun. The second half, for your information is Epiphany of the Long Sun, and it in turn consists of Caldé of the Long Sun and Exodus from the Long Sun. Whew! Now that that’s perfectly clear…
These titles evoke religious rituals in a strange, dying, alien world. And the cover art suggests a certain decayed grandeur, combined with a hint at what in the universe a “long sun” might be. But it was the first sentence of the book that made me want to read it. I resisted buying it because of the hefty price tag on books of the “quality paperback” persusasion. Still, on my every visit to a certain bookstore, I picked it up, fondled it, looked at the cover, and re-read the first page or so. I couldn’t get it out of my mind. Something about the words “Enlightenment came to Patera Silk on the ball court” filled me with the conviction that I must inevitably read this book, some time or other. That time came when a 40%-off coupon and a gift card combined to put this book in range of my pocketbook.
The story does indeed take place in a strange, decaying, dying worlda hollow, cylinder-shaped world illuminated by a long, straight beam of heat and light, whose rotating shade provides a rhythm of night and day to the cities and fields all around it. A world in which one can gaze up into the sky and see a faraway country, and perhaps a winged person gliding around at dizzying altitudes. A world where, after hundreds of years, people have forgotten that they are on a ship, and in which the leaders who put them there and who sometimes speak to them through glorified computer monitors are revered as gods: sacrificed to, prayed to, and feared.
In a rough part of a rough city in that world, an idealistic young priest named Silk receives a revelation from a minor god called the Outsider. His mission is simply to save the neighborhood manteion, more or less a combination of church, school, convent, and community service center—though, on that very same day, the cash-strapped church has been sold to a vile crime lord. Silk undertakes to save his manteion by any means, including burglary if necessary; but without meaning to, he becomes the center of a political revolution, and stumbles upon some mindblowing secrets that lurk beneath the streets of his city.
Author Gene Wolfe, regarded by some as one of the most eloquent voices in contemporary fantasy, writes with an intelligent style and clarity of detail that furnishes his bizarre new world with a sense of reality. Even so, his sense of pacing sometimes irritates me. At times events roll forward at such a leisurely pace that very little time passes within a pile of pages a half-inch thick; then there are bewildering leaps ahead that make you wistful for those hunks of deliberate exposition. I did not think, after reaching the end of Nightside the Long Sun, that I would have been happy reading it as a stand-alone novel; it comes to such an inconclusive conclusion. But having been on, around, under, and in Lake of the Long Sun, I won’t deny that I’m impressed. Silk is a protagonist to watch, and the possibilities of his situation, and that of the world he lives in, are such that I really look forward to reading what comes next.