The Sword of the Lictor

by Gene Wolfe

Cover image

Series: New Sun #3
Publisher: Pocket
Copyright: 1981
Printing: December 1982
ISBN: 0-671-45450-1
Format: Mass market
Pages: 257

Buy at Powell's Books

This is the third book of The Book of the New Sun. You don't want to read this book before reading the previous two.

Unfortunately, this installment of the Book of the New Sun isn't as good as the previous two, in part because it drifts away from the best features of the first two books. The aspect of this series that I enjoy the most is the feeling of the age of the world, the slow discovery of not only what's going on but some glimpses of what has happened, and the emotion of mankind trying to come to grips with its laden past. This was the most present in The Shadow of the Torturer, but still struck in sharp moments in The Claw of the Conciliator amidst interesting political twists.

The Sword of the Lictor, on the other hand, spends large bits of the middle of the book in a far more conventional adventure story, and disturbing wild beasts and jungle sorcerors just don't create the same sense of vast history. Worse, the tone of a somewhat dry and philosophical retrospective that these books are written in works wonderfully for exploring sudden revealed artifacts of history but works poorly as the narrative voice for a more conventional adventure. As a result, while there are certainly portions of this book fully as good as the previous books of this series, there were more moments that left me somewhat cold.

That being said, there are moments here as good as the previous two books, and I still enjoyed the story. Towards the end, the threads of the larger story are picked up again and pursued with some well-handled twists, setting up what looks like it should be an excellent concluding novel. I was a bit disappointed in how Dorcas was handled as a character, but hopefully that too will be resolved in the final book.

This isn't a book that anyone is likely to read on its own merits; it's the third book of a four-book series, and as such primarily serves to set up the final chapter. It continues the story and does not throw one out of the desire to see what happens next, and as such it fulfills its role competently.

Followed by The Citadel of the Autarch.

Rating: 7 out of 10

Reviewed: 2004-06-26

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