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This review is from: The Urth of the New Sun (Orbit Books) (Paperback)
If you have read and enjoyed the "Book of the New Sun" then this book is a must. Wolfe has created in Severian, Torturer, Ruler and Saviour of a far future dying Earth, one of modern Science Fiction's most intriguing and unlikely characters. His often bizarre, episodic adventures create a complex picture of a world that is slowly dying, weighed down by the weight of millennia of history and the dabbling of various alien races.
This sequel takes the story of Severian, now installed as Autarch of the Commonwealth one step further. Taken beyond the circles of our Universe by a giant starship crewed by strange and often adversarial crewmen from all across time and space, Severian must stand the ultimate trial to see if he is the messianic New Sun who will bring the dying Old Sun back to life.
Where the first novel painted a complex picture of a familiar yet alien world through Severian's subjective narrative which explains little and leaves much to the reader's imagination and powers of deduction (and memory - it bears repeated reading), "Urth of the New Sun" takes Severian on a more metaphysical trip through time and space.
Time indeed becomes one the characters in the story, and one has to constantly go back to obscure incidents in the original to understand the full significance of some of the events and characters in this novel. It is a bizarre, sometimes confusing narrative, but Wolfe's love of language and classic story telling holds together a very episodic and convoluted narrative. The style hovers between Mervyn Peake and Charles Dickens in its love of language and eccentric character, Swift and the Lucianic satires in its episodic structure, with elements of Tolkien and even Stapledon in its unlikely juxtaposition of homely fantasy and epic cosmology.
It is no understatement to say that this book completes an already perfect work. There is a poetic sense of circularity in the story, as the character of Severian grows and matures in new ways. His humanity and compassion come to the fore, and there is a real sense of the loss and isolation that he faces in his role as the paradoxical Saviour and destroyer of Earth. For it is only by destroying the world that he (and we) knew, that he can bring about the long promised New Earth. It is an eschatological and soteriological metaphor that harks strongly to Wolfe's own faith and the strong elements of cabalistic and Catholic imagery give the story a spiritual depth missing in much modern fiction.
This is not conventional science fiction (nothing Wolfe writes is typical of any genre). It is not obvious or easy reading. But if you want to stretch your mind, and read a book that will resonate in your imagination for years to come, then you could do much worse than read this.