February 5 2008
The second collection that comprises Gene Wolfe's Book Of The New Sun series picks up nicely where The Claw Of the Conciliator left off. Sword & Citadel, being the last two books of Wolfe's four book set, does not disappoint. Whereas in my last post I was blithely ignorant of Wolfe's talent and skill, here I have no doubts. To put it simply is to echo earlier praise, that this book is easily on par with C.S. Lewis' Chronicles Of Narnia or J.R.R. Tolkein's Middle Earth series. And while this is no easy feat he does so without making reference to either series. Where lesser talents borrow from these masters, Wolfe departs, creating his own world rich in detail yet without the need for indexing or glossarizing.
But a glossary is exactly what you'll be searching for when you begin this series as Wolfe peppers his prose with words of no known (but not unknown) origin, fantastic details that open to their essence in the course of the tale. A tale that develops in tandem with its main character, Severian. While it is a tempting digression to get into the plot's details now that I've finished the series, I'll stick to broad strokes as I illumine the outline.
The series belongs to a class of fiction, or subgenre rather, of science fiction known as Dying Earth. A kind of science fiction/fantasy set in a distant future when the Sun is dying, set against a background of mysterious and obscure powers and events. And of it's kind I'd call it the best, making extensive use of allegory within the series, as Severian is identified as a Christ-like figure: a revitalizer of a humanity on a planet near the end of its time even as he may be hastening the Earth's demise. Consistent with Wolfe's refusal to satisfy conventional expectations however, The Book of the New Sun ends just as Severian learns his true purpose. The fulfillment of that ultimate mission is relegated to a sequel, The Urth of the New Sun, but depriving The Book of the New Sun of the culmination of its story arc does not make it less complete. Instead it seems proper to end here, and leave the sense of disconcerted wonder intact.
Even though it leaves me with questions, it is this sense of wonder for which I read. Enjoy