There was a time when the fantasy genre didn't just exist to entertain, but sometimes aspired to a higher level of artfulness. The Shadow of the Tortu..Show More »rer is such a book. Set in a far distant future, when Earth's sun is fading and human society has lost much of its technological aptitude, Wolfe's novel has a haunting, elegiac quality. It's written in a voice reminiscent of 19th century writers like Poe or Dickens, which adds to the melancholy beauty. Fortunately for the squeamish, though torture is part of the story, it's not described in much detail.
In terms of plot, The Shadow of the Torturer isn't a complex novel. The protagonist grows up under the protection of a strange, cloistered society, learns a few things about the outside world, betrays his guardians, and is thrown out to seek his own fortune -- familiar fantasy stuff. But what sets the book apart from standard swords-and-sorcery fare is the richness of its language and the great imagination in its details; the difference is like comparing a fine oil painting to a crude computer graphic rendering. It has subtlety that forces the reader to pay attention. Wolfe messes with time and space, contemplates philosophical ideas, writes long exchanges whose import isn't immediately clear, and relies on the audience to make sense of the strange, slightly dreamlike events that unfold in the story, rather than spelling out how they're connected.
Without a doubt, this is a book that will absorb some readers and alienate others. Wolfe's ornate, college-level English, though not difficult, is not for everyone. Nor will everyone relate to the protagonist's detached, clinical voice. Basically, if you're looking for a light, Harry Potter-style book with instantly charismatic characters, you're better off going elsewhere. But, for readers who appreciate sophisticated writing and atmospheric, textured imaginary worlds, this is a great read.
While the plot continues with the story Wolfe started in The Shadow of the Torturer, structurally Wolfe gets a little funkier with his second book. I ..Show More »liked it a lot, even though understanding it is sorta like seeking clarity in a broken mirror floating down in swift-flowing river.
Gene Wolfe???s The Sword of the Lictor essentially contains no plot, but it???s the best plotless book I???ve ever read. It???s one of the best books ..Show More »I???ve ever read, period. I loved every moment of it! This third installment of The Book of the New Sun continues Severian???s journey from apprentice in the torturers??? guild to Autarch. He doesn???t seem to be getting any closer to his exalted position (if anything, I???d say farther) and we???re no closer to understanding how he???s going to get there. But that???s totally fine. Unburdened by a need to be anywhere or to achieve any goals or deadlines, Severian wanders the earth almost aimlessly, and it???s this wandering that???s so fascinating. For a reader who???s only anxious for action and story progression, The Sword of the Lictor is not likely to work and, indeed, I usually get annoyed with authors who take too long to tell their stories. However, when I???m reading Gene Wolfe, it not only works ??? it is pure delight. For Wolfe???s old earth, set in a far future when the sun is dying (similar to Jack Vance???s Dying Earth), is full of wonder and amazement and he tells us all about it in his simple but elegant style... I wish I could be there with Severian as he climbs down the steep cliff overhung with a waterfall and embedded with the fossils of earth???s lost architecture, and explores the round metal building that we recognize (but he doesn???t) as a spaceship??? I???d love to tell you more and to discuss what it all means (there???s so much symbolism here), but then you???d miss the jaw-dropping, eye-widening, brain-expanding experience for yourself. I???ll just say that what Severian experiences on his journey perfectly captures the essence of excellent speculative fiction ??? it???s the reason I love SFF.
Nobody creates such a sense of wonder and amazement, such truly unique and bizarre ideas, and relates them in such a beautiful way as Gene Wolfe does. I want to spend a lot more time exploring his world.
This is the last part of the Book of the New Sun tetralogy, which is acclaimed as one of the most intelligent, imaginative, beautifully-written works ..Show More »in fantasy. And, certainly, it is. Wolfe's richly rendered distant future setting of Urth is like nothing else out there and the novels thrum with wonder, gorgeous imagery, and philosophical contemplation. There are interesting characters, strange beings, and fantastic places. There are moments of terror, humor, awe, and sadness. There are multiple layers and puzzles whose illumination reaches from the final chapters back to small moments in Shadow of the Torturer.
The tetralogy is also known as one of the most oblique, self-referential, meandering, WTF works in the genre, and that’s certainly true as well. Revelations about the mutability of time and being cast things that happened in previous books in a new light, which isn’t surprising given that Severian’s interpretation of events never seemed totally reliable. At the end, it *appears* that Wolfe has left some significant questions unanswered, but Severian insists that everything we need to know is in the text he’s written so far. People on the internet (including one guy who apparently did his thesis on these books) have said that rereading the cycle provides more insight, that passages that didn’t seem particularly important the first time take on new significance. With a lot still fresh in my memory, that seems credible enough -- maybe in a few years, I’ll see what emerges for me from a second pass.
Yet, not fully getting a work doesn’t mean that I didn’t enjoy it. Taken on a scene-by-scene level, Citadel is as imaginative, thought-provoking, and moving as the rest of the Cycle. Severian at last finds himself at the front of the war with the Ascians, which was a vague background detail in the previous three books. The nightmarishly fascinating engagements with massive formations of mind-warped enemy troops, who speak in stock phrases reminiscent of Orwell’s newspeak, are a high point of Wolfe’s already impressive imagination and storytelling. I also enjoyed his resurrection of the soldier Miles, which proceeds in a somewhat comical way, and the storytelling competition between patients in a camp hospital, which seems to be sly meta-commentary from Wolfe on what the purpose of stories really is (an Ascian even has an entry).
And Wolfe does answer a number of questions directly. We learn who the autarch really is, and how Severian ends up becoming the autarch himself. Mysteries concerning Dorcas, Thecla, the goals of the aliens, and apparitions that had appeared to Severian get resolved, or at least illuminated enough for readers to draw their own conclusions.
If you search the internet, it becomes apparent that intelligent people hold widely varying opinions on Wolfe’s masterwork. Make no mistake, it is difficult and dense compared to most SF and fantasy, with multiple layers and allusions contained in its dreamlike world. Yet, if you feel up for the challenge, this is a work that pushes the envelope of what speculative fiction can be. I strongly recommend treating all four as one large book and taking them on in a single pass. Finally, I loved the audiobook treatment -- the cool, attentive reading of Jonathan Davis, a talent in his own right, was perfect for Wolfe’s precise, crafted prose.