Feels like something ancient...mythological...heroic. Beautiful simple prose style. Very well written, this is the first of two books. Ironically, I am waiting for the second one to come out in paperback. The only criticism I have is that there are a couple of places that were a bit slow...I felt like I had to work a little harder to stay with it through a few scenes. But, overall, a very good book and I will read the second one.
The best part of this series is the genius with which Wolfe adds various myths into his tale. The norse mythology mixed with faerie and the different levels/worlds is fun, and the characters he uses are also interesting. This is one I'll keep on my shelf.
One story, two books.
I expected to LOVE these - I'd really been anticipating reading them.
But - I didn't love them. I tried, but I just didn't.
For one thing, this story uses the exact same gimmick as Wolfe's The Book of the Short Sun trilogy (you are reading book written for an unseen, not-present person). Not only that, I am sorry, but the narrator has the EXACT SAME VOICE as in that other book. It is written as the exact same character, even though superficially, they are supposed to be two very different people. If you've read one of these books, the similiarity will be unavoidable and distracting.
Another distraction is that the main character is an American boy who, wandering in the woods, slips into a complicated hierarchy of seven other worlds altogether. Due to the magic of an Elf-Queen, he is instantly transformed into the shape of an older, big, muscular man.
The shape/age change is used in the book to some degree, mainly for the repeated philosophical observation that most men feel like boys masquerading as men.
But the fact that he is American, or even from our world, is not utilized in the story at all. He forgets most of his life in our world, it hardly ever comes up, and is not essential to the plot in any way. It's just an unnecessary complication. Odd things occur - and it's alomost as if the character just doesn't react - not like an American would react, and really not like the typical inhabitant of the world where he is would react either. It's just sort of odd. And dull.
I hate to say it, but the books are kind of boring. They're slow-moving, and I just didn't feel that Wolfe's usage of classic fantasy elements worked very well. (Not nearly as well as in any of Wolfe's other books that I've read.) His hierarchy-of-worlds had some interesting elements to it, and some of the characters, especially the fire-elf 'sisters' were cool - but I feel it either needed more action or a more-coherent philosophy pulling it all together.