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The Traitor by Michael Cisco

Michael Cisco brings a postmodern sensibility to the horror/fantasy genre. Nophtha is a spirit eater, a person who devours errant ghosts. He lives in a country occupied by an invading army, and he works in their service, much to the chagrin of his fellow countrymen. He has been rejected by his birth family, and lives in isolation after the death of his wife and being disowned by his son. Nophtha is enlisted by state to hunt down a renegade spirit eater named Wite. During the pursuit, he witnesses Wite devour the souls of the search party. Nophtha is awestruck by Wite's power, and the two of them journey together to hide out in a neighboring country. Nophtha recognizes that Wite has a messianic quality about him, and eventually becomes a zealous advocate of Wite's nihilist philosophy.

The novel is told in the form of Nophtha's prison confessional. The first person narrative is problematized. First, the main character is not particularly likeable or reliable. Nophtha's self-loathing, and his eventual transformation to fanatic are not pleasant to read. Furthermore, he frequently breaks the narrative flow for endless self-justification. The novel revels in its shear textuality. Long meandering sentences, reminiscent of Jose Saramago's style, grow into epic paragraphs unbroken by dialogue. The action is rendered with a curious sense of distance, and the nature of Nophtha's power is unclear. The worldbuilding is sketchily drawn-it has a vague 1890's Central European flavor.

It's a challenging read, and not for everyone. It's like a piece of ambient music, with melodies and themes hidden beneath musical vapor. For those with the patience, what emerges is a beautiful evocation of nihilism, despair and religious mania. There are echoes of Gene Wolfe at his most allusive, and a dash of Nietzsche's Thus Spoke Zarathustra. I'm not sure that I liked the book-but it did hypnotize and haunt me.

The cover art on this edition is fascinating. A shadowy figure stands a textured, burned landscape of yellow and black mountains made of wax. It reminds me of the trippy 1970s covers of philosophy texts.


( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
Feb. 17th, 2008 01:19 am (UTC)
Re: review of The Traitor by Michael Cisco
Thanks! It was kind of difficult to read, and there are moments that make it worthwhile.
Feb. 16th, 2008 09:49 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the review! I have been curious about this book, and your review answers most of my questions. I'll have to check it out!

Edited at 2008-02-16 09:49 pm (UTC)
Feb. 17th, 2008 01:20 am (UTC)
I'm glad you enjoyed the review. You might like his novel THE DIVINITY STUDENT. It's darkly surreal, full of weird imagery that will make your skin crawl.
Feb. 17th, 2008 05:36 am (UTC)
As others have said, great review. I'm highly unlikely to read the book in the immediate future, too much shit going on in my own life for a big dose of depressing, but sounds like it might be worth reading at a different time.

I've always thought one of the key differences 'tween some sorts of existentialism and nihilism is the formers insistence that we can impose our own meaning on reality even if there isn't any cosmic justice out there, and that our impositions actually *matter*; does the book explore that sort of territory at all?
Feb. 18th, 2008 02:44 pm (UTC)
It doesn't really go into detail about the philosophy, which is most demonstrated through the character Wite's supernatural power.
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )


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