I have mixed feelings about this, the final volume of Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun. I’ve been a fan of the work throughout the first three volumes of its run, but the concluding entry is definitely the weakest.
In Citadel of the Autarch, Severian goes off to war and then chances into his destiny, which has implications for all of Urth. The first third is the strongest, as Severian finds himself recuperating in a military camp and becomes the judge of a story contest. The stories are all wonderfully told, and there’s a brilliant conceit involving a captured enemy combatant’s story; the people of Ascians can only speak in memorized passages from their holy text, but we still get his story in translation. In the second third of the novel, Severian goes to war, and we learn that….wait for it….war is hell. It’s a message that I approve of, of course, but it’s the most generic part of this extremely original series.
I won’t spoil the conclusion, even though it’s revealed early in the series, but it does occur through a series of random events, and it puts the character in an entirely different place than he’s been. I can see various reasons for Wolfe to do things this way, but it was a bit unsatisfying because a) it is such a chance occurrence and b) it takes Severian away from the very personal story that has always been at the series’ heart. The Book of the New Sun has been a sort of anti-quest, and the big finish didn’t quite seem an appropriate conclusion to Severian’s wanderings.
Still, this was a solid entry and what has been a fantastic and influential series.