The Citadel of the Autarch

by Gene Wolfe

Cover image

Series: New Sun #4
Publisher: Pocket
Copyright: 1982
Printing: November 1983
ISBN: 0-671-49666-2
Format: Mass market
Pages: 328

Buy at Powell's Books

This is the final book of the original Book of the New Sun series. You don't want to read it without having read the previous books.

I'm not quite sure what to think of this conclusion to the series. I found it a little bit disappointing, to be honest, although I'm not sure if my expectations were just unrealistic or not well-fitted to the world. (Making that harder to judge, I'm also not completely sure what I was expecting.)

Much is left unrevealed in the end, including what will happen next for the world of these stories, but it was fairly obvious that would be the case from early on. The voice of the narrator at the time the story is being written, in the world, is very present throughout the series, and he frequently talks about the things he still doesn't know, so there's warning that those will be left unknown. Even with warning, though, it's a bit unsatisfying, and ends up limiting the scope of the story. In the end, this is just Severian's story, and only a portion of it. While huge potential changes in the surrounding society and world are hinted at, the series doesn't see their conclusion, or even much of their beginning.

That being said, the ending does tie up quite a few loose ends, and is satisfying and well-worth reading. The book starts slowly, with battlefield adventure that isn't particularly compelling (although with an excellent interlude of storytelling), but then moves back into the layered political intrigue and exploration of the fundamentals of the universe that I like best about this series. The ongoing subplot with Dorcas is wrapped up in about the only way that it truly could end, and I liked the very end of the book quite a lot.

In the end, I'm not sure that this series quite lived up to the promise of its beginning, but at the same time it didn't entirely let it down. I think it's difficult to follow through on the promise of such a deep and layered ancient world, and perhaps the best one can do is just maintain the atmosphere throughout (which Wolfe does admirably). While I might have wished for a bit more emotional involvement at some points in this story, Severian is always Severian to the end, and I'm left feeling that the world was very real.

I see that there's a later sequel, The Urth of the New Sun, that I'm going to have to pick up and read. Perhaps Wolfe realized the places the readers were left wanting and filled in the rest of the blanks.

Oh, and once again, the translator's notes at the end of the book are one of the best parts. The use of language remained exceptional throughout the series, even though I mentioned it mostly in my review of the first book.

Followed by The Urth of the New Sun.

Rating: 7 out of 10

Reviewed: 2004-06-28

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