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Baxter Dunn is an educated prison parolee who has come to a small midwestern town in the hope of starting over, with nothing but a small allowance from his mother to do it with. In a somewhat ambiguous narrative that appears to be pieced together from letters to and from Bax, many of them involving his estranged twin brother, he goes from not knowing where his next meal will come from to owning a huge house, complete with servants, plus a car, an enormous tract of riverfront property, and almost ridiculously abundant wealth. But how this happens is very mysterious, even spooky.
Things start to get weird when Bax moves into an abandoned mansion. When he goes to the realty office responsible for the house to ask whether he might live there for free in exchange for doing repairs, he finds out that the mysterious former owner willed the house to him years ago. This is only the first of numerous creepy discoveries Bax makes in and around the house, including people who seem out of touch with the flow of time, animals that change into persons without anyone quite noticing, a vampire who steals laundry off the clothesline, a killer who leaves her victims’ body parts as love-gifts, a talisman that can make wishes come true, machines that come to life, a pair of teenage twins each of whom turns out to be dangerous in his own way, and surprise revelations about Bax’s own family.
It’s the kind of loopy, magical mystery that ought to be familiar to fans of Diana Wynne Jones, laced with riddles and monsters and ghosts and surprise twists that may force you to re-read it in a different light. Though at times it strains the credibility of even the most willing reader, The Sorcerer’s House has the peculiar sort of charm that makes you worry about what sort of man the narrator will prove to be. And though the ending may leave you in some doubt as to exactly what happened, the adventure itself is full of outrageous, magical fun. And it may be a good way into the fantasy novels of Gene Wolfe, whose other books include The Wizard Knight, The Book of the New Sun, The Book of the Long Sun, The Book of the Short Sun, and a trilogy of novels about a soldier named Latro who wakes up every morning with no memory of his life before. For once words fail me; I cannot explain why, but for some reason I just want to read them all.