“The Land Across” by Gene Wolfe; Tor (288 pages, $25.99)
“The Land Across” starts off pretending to be a travel book about “the land across the mountains,” which is never named, but it seems like a safe assumption that the mountains in question are the Carpathians, while the unnamed little Eastern European country could be Transylvania. Fairly quickly, Wolfe’s novel becomes a story about a guy who’s writing this book under the worst possible circumstances and trying desperately to tell us about it, dodging black magic and facing down unthinkable horrors.
Our hero, if that’s the right word, calls himself Grafton, and gets immediately arrested upon crossing the border, where two border guards and a third, shadowy figure (who tends to lurk around haunted or otherwise disturbed places) confiscate his passport and remand him to the custody of a local guy in the town of Puraustays.
The question of whether “The Land Across” ends happily is mostly a question of whether you’ve been reading carefully.
For all its midnight-movie trappings, this is an incredibly complex book, written so carefully that practically every page rewards a second glance after you’ve plowed your way through the romance / blood-curdling horror / adventure narrative a first time. But there’s tremendous fun to be had right there on its surface, as well.