Vintage Treasures: The Devil in a Forest by Gene Wolfe

Vintage Treasures: The Devil in a Forest by Gene Wolfe

A Devil in a Forest Gene Wolfe-small A Devil in a Forest Gene Wolfe-back-small

The Devil in a Forest (Ace Books, 1981). Cover by Kinuko Y. Craft

The Devil in a Forest was Gene Wolfe’s third novel, following Operation Ares and Peace. It was published in 1976, and was very much overshadowed by the release of The Shadow of the Torturer, the opening novel in Wolfe’s masterwork Book of The New Sun, in 1980. Still, in the four and a half decades since its release it’s been much discussed. But my favorite review was this on-the-nose piece by Paul de Bruijn at Rambles:

You know the phrase “You can’t judge a book by its cover?” Well, sometimes you can’t judge a book by the publisher’s blurb on the back, either. Gene Wolfe’s The Devil in a Forest proves the point well…

“He lives deep in the forest in the time of King Wenceslas, in a village older than record. The young man’s hero-worship of the charming highwayman Wat is tempered by growing suspicion of Wat’s cold savagery, and his fear of the sorceous powers of Mother Cloot is tempered by her kindness. He must decide which of these powers to stand by in the coming battle between Good and Evil that not even his isolated village will be able to avoid.”

I would love to know what book that is describing, because it is not The Devil in a Forest. Instead you get a story of a handful of villagers who get caught up in events beyond their control. It starts with the simple plan of getting the local highwayman to leave by helping him commit armed robbery. And Wat plays on the greed of a few of them masterfully. Creating a story of a rich pilgrim, he sends several people away so that he, Gloin, Matt and a char burner can rob Phillip the Cobbler. And then of course things start to go wrong…. it is a story well worth the reading.

Wolfe, who passed away last year, shows no sign of being forgotten by the usually fickle SF fanbase, and he’s discussed (and read) just as much as he’s always been. It’s gratifying to see. The Devil in the Forest was published in hardcover by Follett Publishing in 1976, and reprinted in paperback by Ace Books in November 1977 with a cover by F. Kegil, and again in 1981 with a new cover by Kinuko Y. Craft (above). The 1981 edition is 224 pages, priced at $2.25. See all our recent Vintage Treasures here.

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That cover is awesome! And both back cover descriptions entice me, so I’ll have to look for this one. Thanks John – always adding to me TBR stacks.

Joe H.

I reread it a couple of years ago, and it’s pretty great. Arguably minor Wolfe, but even minor Wolfe is still Wolfe; and arguably more accessible than most of his stuff, but still a LOT going on beneath the surface for you to tease out if you’re so inclined.

Tony Den

I have never encountered this title.Thanks for the info, I will be taking the same stance as Jason on this!

James McGlothlin

I bought this a few days after this post. It was my first Gene Wolfe novel! I can seen why Wolfe is a favorite fantasy author. This was really quite unlike anything else I’ve read in the fantasy genre. It often had a Agatha Christie-mystery vibe to it. Along the way various events happen and characters say and do things that make little sense. At a few points I began to get a little frustrated. But Wolfe usually sucked me back in with details of his characters and the unfolding events of the plot. When I was about thirty pages short of finishing the book I had thought, “The title and cover art are completely deceiving for this book AND I have no idea how the author is going to tie all of the plot threads up by the end.” I can report after having finished that the title and cover art DO make sense and Wolfe did indeed tie everything together in a very satisfying way. I’m intrigued to read more of Wolfe. Thanks for this post John!

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