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|Citadel of the Autarch
by Gene Wolfe
Published by Simon & Schuster, 1982
Amazon.com: hardcover, paperback
Amazon.ca: hardcover, paperback
Amazon.co.uk: hardcover, paperback
Highly Recommended by: Elliot Hanowski
This is the fourth volume of The Book of the New Sun. Having passed through the mountains, Severian now encounters the war that is being fought between his own Commonwealth and the Ascians of the northern continent. The Ascians come from a rigid, totalitarian society and speak only by quoting the approved writings of their rulers, the Group of Seventeen (though ultimately they are all slaves of the monstrous Erebus.)
Succumbing to illness and his wounds, Severian finds himself being nursed in a lazaret of the Pelerines, a female monastic order. Here he converses with Pelerines, their slaves, and a number of wounded soldiers. A female patient with several suitors has them engage in a story-telling contest (in which she herself participates), and asks Severian to judge which story is best. Among these interesting digressions is a version of the Parable of the Wicked Tenants. Once he has left the lazaret, Severian enlists with a unit of mercenary cavalry. He is soon embroiled in hair-raising battles fought between bizarre varieties of troops armed with weapons both futuristic and primitive. Wolfe drew on his own experiences in the Korean War to depict the boredom, excitement and horror of a soldier's life.
It is on the battlefield that Severian again encounters the Autarch and learns the intriguing inner nature of his rule. All of the threads of The Book of the New Sun are drawn together as old haunts are revisited, debts repaid and conflicts come to their head. Vodalus, Agia, Dorcas, and Master Palaemon all make appearances as Severian's ascension to the throne reaches culmination. Particularly memorable is a moving mystical insight that overtakes him at the edge of the sea.
The first part of Citadel feels like a digression from the direction the previous volume took (particularly the stories of the lazaret) though all these pieces do eventually come together. While Severian is still at times proud, lustful and violent, his travels and sufferings have changed him, and we see the beginning of wisdom, particularly as he takes up the power and responsibility of the Autarch. There are some beautiful scenes of grace and forgiveness.
Citadel completes The Book of the New Sun and the first stage of Severian's story. Several years later, Wolfe wrote The Urth of the New Sun, which, in expanding Severian's journey, depicts the numinous salvation history which the first part hints at: the story of the Conciliator and the New Sun. (September, 2006)
This four book series, Shadow of the Torturer, Claw of the Conciliator, Sword of the Lictor, and Citadel of the Autarch are extremely complex but delightful renderings of a world so far in the future that it is hard to recognize as our own. Yet Severian, the torturer who shows mercy, becomes a strange Everyman, who shows us decency and wonder in a strange, but absorbing place. Christians will not find an obvious tract here: this is a dense literary journey, but it will bless you. Diane Joy Baker
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