I read this book the first time it came out, then I reread it when I receieved the second (In Green's Jungles)in the trilogy to refresh my memory.
Written as if it were an actual journal, the narrator describes his journey and its purpose: an odyssey across the oceans of the planet Blue to reach a spaceship that will return to the Whorl (a generation starship) to retrieve a god-like man named Silk, who is believed to be capable of saving the narrator's city from self-destruction. There are also the the events currently happening to the character, who is the Solomonesque Rajan (a type of ruler)of a people far from his native land. Both stories escalate in tension. During his odyssey (and I use this word deliberately), the narrator encounters a number of wonderfully drawn characters. There is the blind and probably crazy robot Maytera Marble and her 'granddaughter' Mucor, who is capable of sending her spirit across the whorl of Blue. (Both are characters from the Long Sun series; it is best to read Long Sun first, but not necessary.) When leaving the rock, the hero is joined by Mucor's loyal hus named Babbie, an eightlegged creature of enormous intelligence. Later, he will also encounter a mermaid and her goddess Mother and an inhumu, a vampire-like creature from Blue's twin planet Green.
Have you wondered why I haven't named the main narrator? That is because it is unclear exactly who he is. Ostensibly, it is Horn. Throughout, Horn describes physical changes that have occurred to him. He occasionally lapses into describing Horn in the third person. He also carries artifacts that at one time belonged to Silk, including a night chough and an azoth. It is likely that he is a least partially Silk, though that is unclear.
Running out of paper, the narrator quickly describes the climax of both stories, which are more cliffhangers than legitimate endings.
Throughout are references to his visit to the planet Green, which are tantalizingly vague but detailed enough to whet the appeptite for the next two books, and then there are the numerous references to his failure to find Silk. Yet if he is at least partially Silk as seems probable, then what happened on Green and did he reach the Whorl?
Like nearly all Wolfe novels, it demands an enormous amount of patience and focus on the reader's part. It is initially disorienting because it is the rambling thoughts of the narrator and because it is difficult to know exactly who he is; it is definitely worth a second and perhaps even a third reading. It is not a novel for readers who want those nine billion page pale Tolkien imitations; it is not a beach novel. If your definition of speculative fiction encompasses only the innumerable Star Trek paperbacks (and those terrible crimes against the wallet: the hardback novels), then this novel is not for you. It is a difficult read, but for the patient and careful reader it offers the pleasure of discovery and thoughtful analysis as well as the wonderful style we have come to expect from Wolfe. Sadly, while it will no doubt be enjoyed by the many Wolfe fans and perhaps a few other adventurous souls, it will largely be ignored by both the critics and the majority of readers. This is shameful, for this is likely to be one of the greatest American novels of the last hundred years.