on December 14, 2003
The young torturer Severian continues his journey in this, the second volume of Wolfe's "Book of the New Sun" series. Skipping the first volume (The Shadow of the Torturer) is not recommended - this series is difficult enough to follow even for those who read every page. References to events that took place earlier are explained only in the briefest detail.
In this volume, Severian's uneasy allegiance to both the Autarch and the mysterious revolutionary named Vodalus is severely tested. While journeying to Thrax where his guild has a position awaiting him, he takes part in the brutal execution of an innocent woman, has a mysterious assignation with his late beloved Thecla, battles a horde of man-apes, is captured by Volalus, participates in the bizarre sharing ceremony of the alzabo, and suffers a lengthy imprisonment before a portentous encounter in the picture room at the House Absolute, among other adventures.
Once again, Wolfe uses language to create the other-worldly locale, employing archaic words to describe objects that are common enough on "Urth", but are unfamiliar to us. And even though the practical-minded Severian frequently doesn't seem to react to the astounding things he sees and experiences, most readers will find themselves intrigued, even though the question "What does it all mean?" remains unresolved.
Like the first volume, this book is pretty light stuff - pure escapism, with no real point or depth of human insight apparent, but it is still a quick, enjoyable read. The fictional narrator foreshadows great things in Severian's future, and presumably the succeeding books will show an overall plan and sense of purpose that this novel lacks in and of itself. The violence and sexual content of these books makes this series unsuitable for young teens, but fans of this kind of pseudo-medieval fantasy should be very pleased indeed.