This week, appropriately, we have a beginning and an ending: The Citadel of the Autarch by Gene Wolfe, the final volume of The Book of the New Sun.
Well. So this is the end.
“All the world was a relic.”
So much is contained in one line, and so much can be taken from that principle in understanding what it is exactly that Gene Wolfe wrought in The Book of the New Sun. Upon finishing this series for the first time, the reader understands that he could not understand anything the first time. Severian is truly misleading, and intentionally obfuscating, going so far as to taunt the reader:
Have I told you all I promised? I am aware that at various places in my narrative I have pledged that this or that should be made clear in the knitting up of the story. I remember them all, I am sure, but then I remember so much else. Before you assume that I have cheated you, read again…
It is only upon completion of The Citadel of the Autarch that it becomes clear Severian was right when he said this. One simply cannot grasp the enormity of Wolfe’s work with only one reading. It’s not designed that way. The Book of the New Sun is more than just a story—though it is certainly that, and there is no doubt of the importance of story throughout the series—but also a lesson for the reader. The Book of the New Sun is an entreaty by Wolfe to deepen your thinking, to read critically, and to change the way your mind expects stories to work.
I took an extra week off before posting this because I needed the time to process Citadel, and the series as a whole. I finished it just before Christmas, and was almost incapacitated by the wonder left over. I am still struggling to find the motivation to read anything else, because nothing promises the same depth and breadth that The Book of the New Sun provided.
Indeed, I am embarking on a reread starting this week. There is so much more for me to find in these pages, things I know are there for me to grasp but only hinted and dazzled me the first time through.
I simply cannot recommend this series enough. If you are a fan of true, meaningful literature, or a fan of SFF who wants a deeper challenge than the likes of Martin or Erikson or Sanderson or Jordan, go pick up The Shadow of the Torturer. You will not regret it, though it may frustrate you at times.
The Book of the New Sun is truly a masterpiece.