Another installment in Wolfe’s dying-earth epic The Book of the New Sun, and we get new companions, new hints and mysteries about Urth, and more misery for the narrator Severian.
Severian finally makes it to the city of Thrax that he set off for midway through book one, and things don’t go well there. From there, various monsters, mutated bandits, wizards, aliens, etc. try to kill Serverian and steal his legendary sword and/or the magical claw of the conciliator. The writing is still literate and lyrical yet highly entertaining. Wolfe manages to maintain a really rich sense of mystery throughout the whole series, and he’s constantly adding details and raising new questions. In this volume we get to see some witches, ancient technology, and we begin to learn a lot more about the presence of aliens on Urth (known as cacogens to the locals).
On the negative side, the series’ bleakness is beginning to pile up to dangerous levels. I mean, it was always obvious that a story about a conflicted torturer wandering a dying Earth was going to be dark, but Wolfe really keeps dialing up the gut punches to Severian (and the reader) as the series goes along. Severian has consistently gained and lost companions over his journeys, but some of the losses in this volume are especially brutal, and the trail of death that follows Severian is almost getting monotonous.
Still, The Book of the New Sun remains a great series, and I would put this volume on the same level as The Shadow of the Torturer, though it was probably not quite as good as the Claw of the Conciliator.