I am currently reading my way through a long list of science fiction and fantasy titles. (http://www.npr.org/2011/08/07/138938145/science-fiction-and-fantasy-finalists if you are interested in the list).
Severian the Torturer continues his epic journey across the lands of Urth, a journey as fraught with peril as it is with wonder. Exiled from his guild he is an outcast, but his travels are woven with strange portents. The Claw of the Conciliator, relic of a prophet and promise of a new age, flames to life in his hands. He carries the great sword Terminus Est, the Line of Division. The dwellers in the deep waters offer him a kingdom under the seas. And he is hunted and driven by terrors from beyond Urth.
Now all his travels move him inexorably toward a grander fate, a destiny that he dare not refuse. For a devouring blackness gnaws at the heart of the Old Sun, and the fate of Urth rests in the return of the Conciliator, the New Sun long foretold.
I've already written about the first half of this volume, The Sword of the Lictor, so this will cover only the second half.
The conclusion of the Book of the New Sun—this series was apparently written as one manuscript and divided into four books for publication and they truly feel that way. I think that to properly appreciate it, I would have to go back and read through all four continuously. The second time through, I would know which details to pay attention to and a lot of the small confusions which I have regarding the plot would likely resolve themselves. Unfortunately, life is short and I’m unlikely to be willing to relinquish reading time to a re-reading this series. I do plan, however, to read the fifth book set on Urth when I reach it in my reading project.
SPOILERS WILL LIKELY ABOUND FROM THIS POINT FORWARD!
There are definitely similarities to Frank Herbert’s Dune series—at least with regard to the nature of the Autarch. Just as with Atreides rulers, Severian ends up truly being able to use the royal “we.” I also found myself wondering if he truly needed the Claw of the Conciliator in order to perform many of the “miracles” which followed in his wake. Perhaps the dog, Triskele, which was saved in the first pages in the first book, was the original signal of Severian’s unusual talents and foreshadowing of his future. I was also gratified to realize that my first thoughts about Dorcas (that she was one of the dead people “buried” in the lake and somehow revived) were true.
This is very much a “chosen one” story—but the ones doing the choosing are interesting. If I’ve got it figured correctly, Severian is chosen by people from the future of Urth who spelunk into the past to make sure that events occur as those people desire it to. Are they aliens? Or are they future, evolved members of Urth’s population? To me, at least, the answer to that question is unsure.
Although it is a very engaging tale, it does fail the Bechdel test miserably. There are a number of female characters, but they don’t interact much—their attention is riveted on Severian. Mind you, this is the state of most of the male characters too, so I can’t hold it against the work too much.
A very good series. I would recommend that science fiction and fantasy fans read it at least once.
Title 165 of my science fiction and fantasy reading project.