SWORD AND CITADEL is an omnibus containing the second half of Gene Wolfe's four-volume work The Book of the New Sun, the novels THE SWORD OF THE LICTOR and THE CITADEL OF THE AUTARCH. The Book of the New Sun, a work in which science and myth, mystery and enlightment mix, is one of the finest works of speculative fiction in the English language. Anyone who is not familiar with The Book of the New Sun is encouraged to read my review for SHADOW AND CLAW, the first half. Be aware that this Amazon listing describes the UK edition, which is inferior in typesetting and paper to the US edition published by Orb Books.
THE SWORD OF THE LICTOR marks an key point in the wanderings of the exile Severian. The volume begins a few weeks after he has arrived in the provincial town of Thrax, where he performs the duties of a lictor, a sort of double-duty jailer and executioner. Like his exile from the Guild which began the saga, here Severian is soon forced to flee Thrax because he has again shown mercy to a woman set for execution. Over the course of this book, he slowly loses all material comfort as he goes north through the wild and is eventually tempted by a diabolical figure from Urth's past. Obviously meant to symbolize Christ's fasting in the wilderness, SWORD provides through Severian a showing of imitation of Christ. The end of the novel shows Severian as a man who has cast off the role of torturer. THE SWORD OF THE LICTOR contains, as a reading from Severian's brown book, a curious story called "The Tale of the Boy Called Frog," in which the myth of the founding of Rome, the Jungle Book, and the Thanksgiving story have all been combined over the eons into a single tale. Lovers of digging up Wolfe's buried allusions will find a feast in this and other parts of SWORD.
THE CITADEL OF THE AUTARCH is the fourth and final volume of The Book of the New Sun. Severian arrives in the north country of Orythia, where the Commonwealth is waging its endless war against Ascia. Severian joins a group of irregulars who pitch in to the battle and eventually he encounters the Autarch, whose successor he becomes. Thus, Severian's claim that the Book of the New Sun is the long story of how he has "backed into the throne" is unfolded. The last portion of CITADEL tells of Severian's return to Nessus to claim the throne, and includes of four beautiful chapters. "The Corridors of Time" tells of Severian's annointing by the Hierodules that he may bring a New Sun to Urth. In "The Sand Garden" Severian experiences an epiphany besides Ocean that ranks among the most beautiful religious writing in history. In "The Key to the Universe," Severian recounts the secret history of Time given to him by the Hierodules where Wolfe has wonderfully meshed science and religion. Finally, the last chapter "Resurrection" is penned by Severian moments before he is to board the ship of the Hierodules in order to stand trial for Urth. It contains some suprising conclusions about his role in Time and ends with his returning to the first girl whom he loved.
The Book of the New Sun is a masterpiece, a poetic tale in which the reader is dazzled by Wolfe's style and entertained by his literary allusions. Once one has read SHADOW AND CLAW, the ombibus of the first two volumes, the second half SWORD AND CITADEL will continue to delight until the last word of Severian's saga and the "translator's" appendix.