The Book of the New Sun: Sword and Citadel Vol 2 (Millennium Fantasy Masterworks S.)

by Gene Wolfe

Paperback, 2000



Call number




Gollancz (2000), Paperback


The Book of the New Sun is unanimously acclaimed as Gene Wolfe's most remarkable work, hailed as "a masterpiece of science fantasy comparable in importance to the major works of Tolkien and Lewis" byPublishers Weekly. Sword & Citadelbrings together the final two books of the tetralogy in one volume: The Sword of the Lictor is the third volume in Wolfe's remarkable epic, chronicling the odyssey of the wandering pilgrim called Severian, driven by a powerful and unfathomable destiny, as he carries out a dark mission far from his home. The Citadel of the Autarch brings The Book of the New Sun to its harrowing conclusion, as Severian clashes in a final reckoning with the dread Autarch, fulfilling an ancient prophecy that will forever alter the realm known as Urth. "Brilliant . . . terrific . . . a fantasy so epic it beggars the mind. An extraordinary work of art!"-Philadelphia Inquirer "The Book of the New Sun establishes [Wolfe's] preeminence, pure and simple. . . . The Book of the New Sun contains elements of Spenserian allegory, Swiftian satire, Dickensian social consciousness and Wagnerian mythology. Wolfe creates a truly alien social order that the reader comes to experience from within . . . once into it, there is no stopping."--The New York Times Book Review… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member RandyStafford
If you've read Shadow & Claw: The First Half of 'The Book of the New Sun' and liked it, this, at 411 pages, is a modest investment in time compared to some other fantasy series. While I'm not sorry I read it, I'm not among the many who love this series, and I won't be continuing it.

This second half
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follows our torturer hero Severian into the wilderness where he continues to be bedeviled by Agia, the woman trying to kill him. But he also meets a young namesake, finds the deadly ruins of a previous Autarch, gets embroiled in the war with the Ascians (a culture which only allows verbal expression using officially chosen proverbs and aphorisms), and reveals the answers to most of the mysteries of this world, the Autarch, and his old lover Dorca.

Those revelations were interesting as were some of the scenes and philosophical asides. But just before most of those revelations, in the book's last fourth, I lost enough interest in the story to put the book aside awhile. It was Wolfe's intention to do something different with the cliches and templates of heroic fantasy of the Tolkien mold. And, to a certain extent, he did. Making our narrating hero an honest to goodness torturer is something different. Ultimately, though, the interruption of Severian's story for the nested tales and fables presented by other characters began to bore me. The novel's central mystery reminded me of the more concise and enjoyable ending to Charles L. Harness' The Paradox Men, and the ever increasing Christian imagery and allusions made me impatient too. They were enough to make me wish Wolfe had either never introduced them or gone all the way into truly allegorical territory a la a medieval romance. And, though a torturer, Severian turns out to fufill much the same cliched role as many a fantasy hero who are the saviors of their people.

Yes, Severian does reveal all he promised, but the revelations turn out to not be all that interesting.
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LibraryThing member ThePortPorts
So, I read this book mostly out of a completionist impulse rather than any strong drive to actually read the thing. Clever, creating a 2-volume omnibus edition.

I guess The Book of the New Sun is a classic. Do I see good things in it? Yes... there are dozens of wonderful ideas in this series.
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Interesting twists, fascinating mythos.... And the concept of the autarch (and who and what that is...)? Very cool.

Yet this book never grabbed me. While there are riveting concepts here, the writing is so utterly flat to me. I am honestly bewildered how so much wonderfulness can be so, well... boring.

Aside from a writing style I didn't exactly fall into, I struggled with the absence of plot. Like a roughly-connected series of DnD adventures featuring cool min/max characters, Severian just moves from adventure to adventure, gaining the occasional clue, an item here or there, and bits of experience. He gets progressively awesome with his sword (too much xp for each adventure!), and quickly seems immune to most human weaknesses (even when he's near death he's still pretty snappy). Bits of character development are still flat. A more emotive story-teller could have really put some zing in these books.

Still, it gets 3 stars. It was okay. I'm glad to move on, though.
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LibraryThing member blakeja
A series unlike anything else you have ever read in any genre. Reading Wolfe, especially in this series, is to me very much like reading a painting. He can be tough to follow so reading this book does require you to think, as he makes extensive use of metaphors to paint the picture/story for you
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and time lines are mixed together with little explanation. That said, I found it be a very rewarding read, unique all around and easily one of the best sci-fi/fantasy stories ever written.
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LibraryThing member RRLevering
I read this book in two nights and I much regret that hastiness. The beauty and horror of Gene Wolfe is in his writing style. He has one of the most "true" to character writing styles that I have ever read. He writes his main character, Severian, so honestly that half of the prose blends into
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poetry and dreams, as they most likely do in most people's heads. So when you read it too quickly, it floats by like a good dream you once had.

The content of the plot is pretty standard epic. Severian travels through the wilderness of the world and into plenty of different environs, unbelievably managing to meet up with every interesting person on the planet again and again. Not to say this is a bad thing, a story without a monomyth would be a boring thing indeed. And in this area, I think this book succeeds more greatly than it's prequel (or prequels technically). The only thing that is lacks in content, in my opinion, is romance. He doesn't develop any further romances and the longings he has for past romances are all bittersweet ones. More connections to humanity would have continued to enhance my own connection to Severian, I believe.

The plot is also honest, which I've come to admire over time. People randomly die, there is often sadness, things are not wrapped up, and most tellingly, the main character will often exaggerate or lie. His speech and actions often deviate from his thought process greatly. This, especially combined with times when he's drugged or weary, leads to an interesting edge of not really being sure of what's going on. Like I said before, this is a double-edged sword. It's hard to really feel for a character who speaks in such a self-centered manner and relates his feelings and thoughts in such an indirect way.

Because of this, I don't think I can ever say that Gene Wolfe's stories (if they are all similar to this style) will be my favorite, but I admired the amazing control of language and style found in this novel. It is of a level of quality rarely found in modern-day science fiction and fantasy and to be treasured. This novel is in my list of only a couple books that really demand a re-read.
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LibraryThing member LastCall
This is one of the greates fiction books written ever. It is a true masterpiece. It works and suceeds on every level.
LibraryThing member Cecrow
Speaking strictly from a story perspective, this proved to be a bit more interesting than the previous volume - but that's not really the point of it. I finished this feeling like I'd missed most of what it was really about, and had to surf the net and read various reviews and essays on it to begin
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understanding the layers. I'm still not entirely clear on some of it.
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LibraryThing member Meggo
I greatly enjoyed the first book of this set, but found this one a little bit of a letdown. Entertaining in many places, and engrossing in others, this book also felt like it was sleepwalking at times. Still worth reading, but it was much easier to put down than its companion.
LibraryThing member Knicke
Holy. Crap. I don’t think I’ve ever read a science fiction or fantasy novel that came so close to the complexity of other great works of fiction. It reminds me of Candide, Moby-Dick, many others. I don’t say that type of thing often – I promise I’m not being hyperbolic. This is
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super-literary bildungsroman stuff, that just happens to occur in the the far, far future on an Earth whose sun is going out.After finishing this series of books, I immediately thought “Well, I’m going to have to reread these”. There’s no way I got it all the first time around. I really wish I had studied it in the context of a book group or class – I could’ve used some discussion, surely.Anyway, I’m pretty damn impressed, and will be reading some other stuff by Wolfe in the near future.
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LibraryThing member malrubius
Reread Audiobook Oct 2011. Wonder upon wonder. The greatest work of the imagination I have ever encountered. A billion stars.
LibraryThing member robinamelia
I found myself getting more and more drawn into this complex and strange book.
LibraryThing member mattries37315
The continuation of the classic story of an unremarkable young man who finds himself rising to the leadership of his nation. Sword & Citadel by Gene Wolfe is the omnibus collection of the last two volumes of The Book of the New Sun tetralogy, The Sword of the Lictor and The Citadel of the Autarch,
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following the travels of exiled torturer Severian.

The Sword of the Lictor finds Severian arrived in Thrax performing his duties until he doesn’t kill someone for the city’s Archon and runs for the hills. He ultimately meets up and battles Dr. Talos and Baldanders in which his sword is destroyed. The Citadel of the Autarch finds Severian continuing his wanderings towards the war in the North when he stumbles upon it. Through his war experience he meets up with the Autarch and becomes his successor after eating him.

The opening volume of the book, Sword, is the nadir of the entire series as I came to dislike Severian as a character and Wolfe as a writer because of awful everything was. What made it worse was that the concluding volume of the book, Citadel, began well and gave a false promise about redeeming the entire series then Severian meet up with the Autarch and it quickly went into the abyss. Wolfe wrote five “in-world” stories, one in Sword and four in Citadel as part of a storytelling contest, which were all better than either one of these volumes.

I had high hopes for this classic series by Gene Wolfe, however Sword & Citadel concluded one of the most overrated series I’ve ever read.

The Sword of the Lictor (1.5/5)
The Citadel of the Autarch (2/5)
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LibraryThing member pjohanneson
I loved this tetralogy, though I'm not convinced I'm even close to understanding all that went on. This saga demands re-reading.
LibraryThing member Stevil2001
I knew these books would be weird and disjointed going in, but I had no idea how weird and disjointed. I'm writing this up about two months after finishing this volume, which was honestly too long to leave it because at this point I have no idea what I actually read, just vague memories of
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fragments: Severian at a party, Severian meeting a boy named Severian, Severian at war, Severian climbing a tower where different levels are in different times. What was this whole series about? I've no idea.

Was it my fault or what it the books'? Well, it's definitely at least partly the books' fault, I know that, but how much? I think it's at least partly mine; I read these in a pretty fragmented, jumpy way, and I don't think I got as much out of it as I could have with more sustained focus. As I said last time, they say you don't read Book of the New Sun, only reread it, so at some point in the future, I will give these books a second go and see if they click for me. But I think that will be awhile yet.
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Original publication date

1994 (omnibus)
1982-01 (The Sword of the Lictor)
1983-01 (The Citadel of the Autarch)

Physical description

608 p.; 7.64 inches


1857987004 / 9781857987003
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