Briefly Noted: ‘The Land Across,’ fantasy by Gene Wolfe

landacrossWith all the high-energy buzz surrounding books like Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, Amy Tan’s The Valley of Amazement, and John Grisham’s Sycamore Row, I have to look a little harder to find new fantasy fiction, especially contemporary fantasy.

So, I’m happy to see that Gene Wolfe’s (“The Book of the New Sun” tetralogy) new release from Tor Books will appear a few days before Thanksgiving filled with corruption, supernatural powers and a Kafkaesque flavor. The Land Across unfolds in an imaginary Balkan country that’s difficult to visit and more difficult to leave–in part because of the secret police and in part because of a cult called the Unholy Way.

Teaser Excerpt from the Novel

Like most countries it is accessible by road or railroad, air or sea. Even though all those are possible, they are all tough. Visitors who try to drive get into a tangle of unmarked mountain roads, roads with zits and potholes and lots of landslides. Most drivers who make it through (I talked about it with two of them in New York and another one in London) get turned back at the border. There is something wrong with their passports, or their cars, or their luggage. They have not got visas, which everybody told them they would not need. Some are arrested and their cars impounded. A few of the ones who are arrested never get out. Or anyhow, that is how it seems.



  • Kirkus Reviews says The Land Across “seamlessly blends mystery, travelogue, authoritarianism and the supernatural.”
  • Publishers Weekly says “Wolfe evokes Kafka, Bradbury, and The Twilight Zone in combining the implausible, creepy, and culturally alien to create a world where every action is motivated by its own internal logic, driving the story forward through the unexplored and incomprehensible.”
  • According to Library Journal’s starred review, “Wolfe, in masterful mood, builds his characters, explores the puzzles, links the elements together and contrives to render the backdrop both intriguingly attractive and creepily sinister. Sheer enjoyment.”
  • And Booklist writes, “Master fantasist Wolfe feeds into every tourist’s worst fears in this cleverly constructed travelogue though a country figuratively accessed through a looking glass. When an American travel writer, Grafton, sets out to document his experiences traversing a small, exceedingly obscure Eastern European country (the land across the mountains), he winds up in a nightmarish predicament from which there appears to be no escape.”

I like contemporary fantasy because, in blending magic into the real world, it brings us plots and characters that seem somewhat more plausible than swords and dragons on far-away planets. Almost everyone who has traveled has worried about being lost in an unfamiliar and unfriendly place. Wolfe’s protagonist is a travel writer who should know his way around the risks, but he’s nonetheless trapped in a place where mere unfriendliness would be a plus.


Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of contemporary fantasy novels, including “The Seeker,” “The Sailor and “The Betrayed.” Released this month, “The Betrayed” features a young English teacher at a small campus where lies and deceits take precedence over literature, history and science.