The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe

The Book of the New Sun is a tetral­o­gy com­posed of The Shad­ow of the Tor­tur­er, The Claw of The Con­cil­ia­tor, The Sword of the Lic­tor and The Citadel of the Autarch. It is sort of a blend of both fan­ta­sy and sci­ence fic­tion in terms of genre, but with chap­ter titles like “Escha­tol­ogy and Gen­e­sis” it is also much more than that.

This is one of those rel­a­tive­ly rare nov­els in which the sto­ry and the way it is told are approached in nov­el ways. It is a first per­son nar­ra­tive, the nar­ra­tor, Sev­er­ian, is trusty, but he admits that he doesn’t have much expe­ri­ence with writ­ing or telling a sto­ry. Because of this things get left out, we often don’t find out what he is think­ing until he speaks his thoughts, at oth­er times his ram­bling meta­phys­i­cal mono­logues [kin­da reminds me of a blog I know] only apply loose­ly to the action of the sto­ry. More things are implied and inferred than told out­right. For instance, Sev­er­ian is not a very bod­i­ly per­son, he doesn’t talk about his body unless he is hurt or hun­gry. Yet it is obvi­ous by the way oth­er peo­ple [most­ly women] react to him that he is both very strong and very hand­some.

The world of Urth is either the future of our own world or the future in a dif­fer­ent uni­verse. The sun is old and a red giant [which, if it were true in our uni­verse would swal­low the earth, i think] and every­one speaks of a return to the old days when peo­ple trav­eled among the stars and the birth of a New Sun. The sto­ry reads at the top of a riv­er but is con­stant­ly hint­ing at the dom­i­nant cur­rent at the bot­tom.

The plot is good because it is min­i­mal. Sev­er­ian gets exiled from the guild and sent to some town in the north to work as a carnifex or lic­tor. I guess I should men­tion that he is a jour­ney­man tor­tur­er, a heads­man. The book con­tains extra-dimen­sion­al beings, par­al­lel-uni­verse time trav­el, an ogr­ish, ever-grow­ing Franken­stein­ian char­ac­ter and lots of casu­al sex. Noth­ing and no one are as they seem, espe­cial­ly Sev­er­ian. At one moment he spares the life of his ene­my, in the next he is killing refugees just because.

Through­out the book it seems like Gene Wolfe is rec­on­cil­ing the sci­en­tif­ic mind with the roman­tic one. He does a pret­ty good job with this in Sev­er­ian. I don’t know what else to say with­out spoil­ing some sur­prise.

I’m going to buy these. Wolfe is a Catholic, so per­haps one of the rea­sons I enjoyed this book and con­nect­ed with it is because it is a Catholic work.

A good Gene Wolfe site.