Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Genre Character of the Week: Latro

Recently I took a university course in Ancient Greece, and as I've found that reading related materials helps my grades, I started checking out movies and books which focused on the time period. The best find (for Ancient Greece) by far was Gene Wolfe's Soldier series featuring my pick for genre character of the week, Latro.

These books (Starting with Latro of the Mist) take place right at the end of the defeat of the Persian Wars in 479 BC (The Film 300 shows the beginning of the war). Our main character, Latro, who fought for Xerxes, has suffered a serious head wound and now has two serious problems: One, he has lost the ability to retain short-term memories (very much like Leonard in the film Memento), and has to keep a record of his life on paper now or he forgets everything, Two: Latro can see the gods.

The Greeks actually have a pretty big history of people dealing with the gods in a regular, sort of day-to-day format (The Iliad has a lot of this), but I just love how Latro is able to notice the gods and be noticed by them while all the people around him are unaware. Through the series he ends up with a slave girl called Io, who is maybe 9 or 10 when they first meet, and who is very helpful to him in protecting him from people who might want to take advantage. As Latro (a name given to him by a surgeon as his own name is forgotten), travels through the ancient world, he meets more and more of the gods and does a lot of mini-quests, helping them in return for clues as to who he really is.

The thing I admire most about Latro is his innocence. Although he is a soldier, and a formidable one at that (he kills a lot of people throughout the series), his injury has knocked his preconceptions and judgements right out of his head. He takes everyone as they appear at first, regardless of whatever he is told by others and simply lets their own actions decide his opinions of them. I also love how the gods seem to be just as surprised that Latro can see them as the people around him.

The third book of the series, Soldier of Sidon, takes place in Egypt and is filled with Egyptian, rather than Greek gods, and as Latro has amnesia, readers can jump on in any of the three novels. My only complaint is that I want more! Latro is desperate to find out who he is and how to return home (wherever that is), and at this point in the series he is a little closer, but still not there yet.

Historical fiction usually needs a main character who is removed from the prejudices of the age or modern readers won't be able to relate as well. Latro, with his strange way of seeing the world, is a very unique solution to this issue, as he may have had all those prejudices once, but now must simply trust people on what he sees (and writes down.)

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