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.