The Citadel of the Autarch
The Citadel of the Autarch is the forth book in Gene Wolfe’s The Book of the New Sun tetralogy. It follows Severian as he reaches the front in the war against the Ascians and assumes the role of Autarch.
The Citadel of the Autarch is the final book in the original series, and halfway through I was worried Wolfe wouldn’t be able to wrap it up successfully. By the end, I thought he had done a marvelous job tying up almost all the loose ends while leaving just enough of the mysteries to give the world depth.
One mystery left unsolved is the nature of the megatherians—the gigantic beings that are trying to enslave humanity and who have enslaved the Ascians. Are they Lovecraftian horrors from beyond the void, or humans who became something more? Even here there are enough hints to let me ponder the question without feeling hopeless. I think the megatherians are post-humans, and that Balanders’s ever increasing size and exit from the narrative into the water hints he is on the way to becoming one.
Overall I enjoyed The Book of the New Sun, although I don’t rate it as highly as Ursula K. Le Guin1 or Neil Gaiman2 do. The interplay of writing and setting worked really well, and the stories have lingered in my mind even after finishing. I hear the sequel, The Urth of the New Sun, answers more questions in a different style. I look forward to reading it.
“Years later, Michael Dirda of the Washington Post would call it [referring to The Shadow of the Torturer] “The greatest fantasy novel written by an American,” and he would be right.” – Neil Gaiman, Gene Wolfe by Neil Gaiman, The Guardian, 2011-05-13 ↩