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The Sorceror's House [Paperback]

Gene Wolfe
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
Price: 10.99 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
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Book Description

4 Jan 2011
In a contemporary town in the American Midwest where he has no connections, an educated man recently released from prison is staying in a motel. He writes letters to his brother and to others, including a friend still in jail. When he meets a real estate agent who tells him he is the heir to a huge old house, long empty, he moves in, though he is too broke to even buy furniture, and is immediately confronted by supernatural and fantastic creatures and events. His life is utterly transformed and we read on, because we must know more. We revise our opinions of him, and of others, with each letter. We learn things about magic, and another world, and about the sorcerer Mr. Black, who originally inhabited the house. And then perhaps we read it again.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Tor Books; Reprint edition (4 Jan 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0765324598
  • ISBN-13: 978-0765324597
  • Product Dimensions: 23.4 x 15.5 x 2.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 346,544 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Gene Wolfe is the author of two dozen novels and hundreds of shorter stories. He is best known for the three multi-part series The Book of the New Sun, The Book of the Long Sun, and The Book of the Short Sun, as well as for the acclaimed duology, The Wizard Knight. Over his forty-year career, he has won the Nebula Award, the John W. Campbell Award, the World Fantasy Award, the British Science Fiction Award, the Locus Reader's Poll, the Rhysling (for poetry), and many others. In 1996, he was given a Lifetime Achievement Award by the World Fantasy Convention, and in 2007 he was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame. He lives in Barrington, Illinois, with his wife Rosemary.

Product Description


"A complex, spellbinding web of otherworldly sorcery and hauntings. Both terrifying and touching, this book of wonders speaks eloquently about the nature of responsibility and family." (Publishers Weekly)"

About the Author

Gene Wolfe is winner of the World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement, and many other awards. In 2007, he was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame. He lives in Barrington, Illinois.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
By Murray
Baxter Dunn, a scholarly man with a chequered past, is penniless and just out of prison. In search of a place to stay, he happens on an untenanted and slightly dilapidated old house in the town of Medicine Man, and, rather than just breaking into it and squatting, he decides to offer to repair and look after it in exchange for being allowed to live there rent-free. But when he tracks down the managing agents, he's in for a surprise: the house is his, and has only been waiting for him to come along and claim it.

Told in a series of letters (mostly to Baxter's identical twin brother, who has good reason to hate him), Dunn's story becomes increasingly fantastic, as he delves into the mystery of the Mr Black who once owned the locally-infamous "Sorcerer's House", and as he explores the labyrinthine house itself (which "grows when people live in it, and shrinks when they don't"), meets the good/bad twins Emlyn and Ieuan who seem to belong to another century, acquires a butler (or two), and a footman (who is also a dog), as well as a pet/lover in the form of a facefox -- a creature that is the reverse of a werefox, being a fox that can take human form, rather than the other way round. There is also a vampire and several werewolves. The house's windows, sometimes, overlook a vast forest with a distant, gleaming tower. It's one of those house-on-the-borderland "vasty houses" one finds so often in the literature of the fantastic -- not to mention dreams.

Wolfe has a reputation for being a writer whose stories have hidden depths, which often require a second reading to get the most from them, but this could just be down to the fact that he likes playing with significances.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good but not great 20 Dec 2010
The Sorcerer's House is an entertaining and fun story about a house that is situated both in our world and in another world full of magic and terrifying beings. The main character, Bax, is an academic just released from prison. For mysterious reasons he very soon finds himself to be the unexpected owner of the Black House, a building known by the locals to be haunted. The whole novel consists of letters from Bax, most of them addressed to his hostile twin brother George, and also some letters written from other people to Bax.

Gene Wolfe is my favorite author, and he is widely appreciated for his high literary standards. In my opinion, this is a very good book, but still not one of Wolfe's best ones. I get the impression that it is written in a kind of laidback style, something the author enjoyed writing but did not put too much effort into. It is an easy read with a lot more dialog than in most of Wolfe's books, and perhaps for that reason I feel that is not going to last so long in my memory as some other of his books. But in spite of that, don't miss it!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Most Unreliable Narrator. 4 Nov 2013
This is a classic Gene Wolfe novel and has all the elements that he has returned to, on many occasions. The classic unreliable narrator, fantastical creatures and a feeling of being "out of time" or from another, earlier age.

This would be quite a scary story and there are points where it ventures into deeply unsettling psychological horror territory. But we are separated from this by the narrative device of this being presented as a series of letters, written mostly by the main character - Bax/ Baxter. His profound unconcern for whatever happens - his phlegmatic nature, you might say - mean that we can't at first be scared. But there are times when the story runs away with him into the immediate present and this doesn't feel like a letter at all and we are there with the characters.

While it's clear that Bax is unreliable and he tells us so, all the time; there is also a feeling that Gene Wolfe is not telling us the truth and that he is just cloaking this story in artifice. He knows more than he is letting us in on - just hinting at the world that lies on the other side of the house and draws Bax in.

This book does have werewolves, vampires and magicians - but it is unlike any other work of "genre" fiction that deals with this kind of thing. Wolfe is literary, old-fashioned and considered. He is more interested in the art of writing than anything else and how all of this is just words on a page - who knows what actually happened? We only get clues of what the writers want to tell us and it's often the minutiae which concern them and not the weird situation(s) in which they find themselves.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars classic Gene 29 May 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
No one tells it like Gene, and this novel is no exception. I have liked all his work since I discovered the shadow of the torturer 30 years ago so maybe I'm biased, but I really enjoyed this
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46 of 51 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A borderline masterpiece, one of Wolfe's best 20 Mar 2010
By Kyle Muntz - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This new novel by Gene Wolfe is everything we expect of him: complex, surreal, expertly controlled, consistently surprising. Without a doubt, it's one of his best stand-alone works. While I would appreciate another series, it's good to know that Wolfe is still better than everyone else, and that this late in his career, he's still going strong.

In some sense, this strikes me as a return to form. "An Evil Guest", despite a magnificent plot, suffered from a very serious problem: Wolfe simply doesn't write well from a female perspective. His voice and attitude are so overwhelmingly male that the entire work just felt... off. "The Sorcerer's House" is more concise, extremely gripping, and, for lack of a better word, whole.

The epistolary form really plays to Wolfe's strengths. The narrator writes primarily to his brother (who eventually makes an appearance, in the most dramatic fashion), but we are also allowed to see the narrative from other perspectives, producing a dynamic loosely akin to parallax. Much, of course, is concealed, and we are eventually informed that we see only a possible order of events, rather than that in which Bax recorded them himself.

As to the Publisher's Weekly review Amazon has on display, I find it absolutely misleading. There are no stereotypes in this book, or if there are, they're treated subversively in an entirely original context. Moreover, the ending is ambiguous, but not "rushed". As always, Wolfe is in complete control of his material, and forces us to resolve the final chapters on our own.

Altogether, I really enjoyed this book. Gene Wolfe is one of the most accomplished authors writing in any language, and "The Sorcerer's House" does a great job reminding us of that.
38 of 48 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Gene Wolfe comic thriller 2 April 2010
By Dmitry Portnoy - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Wolfe is at best an erstwhile novelist: the heart (and brains) of his oeuvre lie in the magisterial multi-volume epics ("The Sun Sequence" and "The Wizard Knight"), in which he creates and populates entire worlds with a Jehovian fecundity, and in his diabolical short stories (especially the innocuously titled ones like "The Cabin on the Coast," or "The Wrapper"), in which he takes your breath away with a sucker-punch. Reading his long works, you get the sense of watching him juggle chainsaws, jackhammers and electric eels to find that not only has he emerged unscathed (and having grown a couple extra arms) but carved out a unique, intricate sculpture out of a marble block you hadn't realized was there. Reading his short works, you feel you are witnessing a magic trick, where rabbits or elephants vanish, or materialize out of thin air.

Wolfe in medium doses can be less thrilling, due in part to his own program of sensibly treating single volume novels as something less (duh) than multi-volume ones, and in part to his protean nature as a writer: other than a few rhetorical flourishes, such as certain characteristic dialectical elisions in the dialogue, Wolfe does not really have a signature prose style. Ever the engineer, he invents a new prose style to suit the specs of each new work. And page by page, his single-volume novels by necessity lack either the formal variety of his short story collections or the baroque expansiveness of his epic works. His epics are jungles, his stories hothouses. His novels are gardens. Generic constraints cause their language to be well-tended, well-manicured, and, well, (God forgive me) Midwestern.

Having said all these mean, mean, mean, and nasty things, I have to admit that the Wolfe novels I love ("The Fifth Head of Cerberus," "Peace," "Free Live Free," "There Are Doors," and even a couple of Latro's diaries) probably outnumber the ones I don't (the near-ubiquitously frustrating "Castleview," for instance, or his, perhaps uniquely to me, stubbornly quixotic "Evil Guest," or "Pirate Freedom.) Still, reading all of Wolfe's major works, and many, if not most, minor ones, did not prepare me for "The Sorcerer's House."

In the best sense of the word, it reads like a great first novel. It has two qualities not found elsewhere in Gene Wolfe's output. For one, it is Wolfe's first work of significant length that demands to be read in one sitting. It is not just addictive (all his writing is), it is propulsive: suspenseful, light, easy, and fast-paced, with not a single extra word or excess episode and packed with weirdness, sex and violence, it grabs you like something created by the urbane imagination of, say, early Jonathan Carroll collaborating with the ruthless discipline of, say, Michael Connelly. But wait, there's more. Because for two, it's funny. Hysterically so. Up until now, most of Wolfe's best jokes have been hidden in his short stories or in brilliant moments, occasional stretches or supporting characters one (always mistakenly) thinks are being used for comic relief in his epics. But for me, this is the first time since that great '70's novella "Forlesen" that Wolfe has written a lengthy, sustained entirely comic work, whose humor, like "Forlesen's," tangoes with terror and dread. You'll feel like he is juggling rabbits. With tusks.

Read it now. It is a surprise, a delight, a brand new gift from an unsurpassed, unequalled author who has absolutely nothing to prove, and everything to show for it.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Elegant fantasy 7 Aug 2010
By Stefan - Published on
The Sorceror's House is a beautifully subtle new novel by master fantasy and SF author Gene Wolfe. The novel's protagonist is a recently released convict who, seemingly by complete coincidence, comes into possession of an abandoned house. As he moves in, he discovers that the house already has a few odd inhabitants...

A large part of the enjoyment of this novel is the process of discovery, as the protagonist slowly finds out more and more about the odd nature of the house and its inhabitants, as well as the relations between the other people living in his new town. Because I don't want to spoil this process of discovery, I won't say much more about the plot of the novel, aside from the fact that it will slowly suck you into its own twisted reality, and that it's perfectly suited to be read and re-read, because everything, from the very first page on, will have acquired a new meaning by the time you're done reading The Sorceror's House for the first time.

Fans of Gene Wolfe know that this author likes to play games with unreliable narrators, such as the protagonist of the SOLDIER books, whose memory is wiped out at the end of every day, or Severian from The Book of the New Sun, who claims to have a perfect memory. In the case of The Sorceror's House, the novel actually consists of a series of letters. The vast majority are written by the erudite and intriguing main character, and addressed to his twin brother, his former cell mate, or his brother's wife. It's the epistolary format of The Sorceror's House that sets up lots of opportunities to twist the reader's perspective, because it allows the writer of the letters to tailor the content (not to mention tone) to the addressees. The very last letter of the novel is a perfect example -- and I guarantee you'll have a smile on your face when you read it.

I wouldn't call The Sorceror's House a major novel in Gene Wolfe's impressive oeuvre, at least when compared to masterpieces like The Book of the New Sun or THE WIZARD KNIGHT, but that doesn't mean that it isn't a supremely elegant fantasy novel, with a memorable narrator and a Twin Peaks-like atmosphere of "everyone in this small town has a secret". If you're already a fan of the Wolfe, definitely pick up a copy of The Sorceror's House... and if you're not, maybe this quote from Neil Gaiman (about THE WIZARD KNIGHT) will convince you: "Gene Wolfe is the smartest, subtlest, most dangerous writer alive today, in genre or out of it. If you don't read this book, you'll have missed out on something important and wonderful and all the cool people will laugh at you."
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars This is the latest delightful tale from Gene Wolfe 7 Oct 2011
By Rick O - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is the latest delightful tale from Gene Wolfe published in 2010. Although a short 300 pages, it seems to be a larger tale than it is. Maybe Gene Wolfe is really a sorcerer, or a warlock. It seems every time I read a Wolfe book I'm surprised by his style and ingenuity. There are a few parts that remind me of Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, which is a good thing.

The entire book is composed of letters written mostly by our lead narrator, a ex-con named Baxter Dunn to his twin brother George. Baxter was recently released from prison and is writing to his brother for some much needed money, but his luck changes as he discovers an abandoned house. He decides to find a Realtor to see if he can find the owner and live there rent-free in exchange for much needed repairs to the strange house. He meets Realtor's Doris Griffin and Martha Murrey and finds out that the previous owner Zwart Black has left the house to him in his will. He later finds out that a certain Mr. Skotos has left him valuable real estate and a large bank account! Who were these people? What did they want in return?

The house seems to have many rooms; some without entrances, some without exits, and with the strangest people and animals arriving and disappearing. As he tries to unravel this mystery, he will meet a werewolf, a changeling pet fox, a pair of strange butlers, a dwarf and a host of eccentric people. Some of the supernatural creatures in this novel are somewhat unique and original. The ending is unpredictable and is climaxed by some unanswered questions. Does this mean a sequel?

Although Gene Wolfe is 80 years old, his mind remains forever young and imaginative. This novel displays Wolfe's great story telling abilities and even though this is not quite a five star novel, it is highly recommended reading for any fantasy fan.
17 of 24 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars odd writing 29 May 2010
By San Diego Jeff - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I am a long-time fan of Wolfe's and have read and enjoyed most of his books. This one was a disappointment, for a reason that surprised me. I think Wolfe is a fine writer. The writing in this book is, well, strangely amateurish and awkward.

Several other reviewers commented somewhat negatively on the narrative device that Wolfe uses. Chapters consist of letters, mostly from the protagonist but a few to him. I didn't mind this. It didn't get in the way and after a while (when I realized this would be the format for every chapter), I even liked it. It provided a way for Wolfe to switch first-person perspectives. More interestingly, letters from the protagonist to different people showed different aspects of the same writer.

What I found disconcerting was the very stilted and awkward writing style itself. At first I thought these were simply meant to reveal a quirkiness of the narrator. But the oddities were found in letters from all writers. Some of the writing was just bizarre, but not in the way that one might expect from a Garcia Marquez, Borges, or other writers in the magical realism genre. Rather, the writing was embarrassingly sophomoric (high school not even college). Sentence were clumsy, the flow between sentences was often jerky. The characters themselves were described in ways that made them seem, not fey (which would be consistent with the story) but just loopy.

Wolfe is in general a good enough writer that I suspect the style he adopted here reflected a deliberate choice. But I'm not sure why. It didn't work for me, at least.
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