This is the fourth book in the series The Book of the New Sun. There’s still one more book, but this was the conclusion to the main story arc that our main character, Severian, has been telling us. This review is therefore more of a review of the first four books as a whole than it is of this fourth book in particular.
I’ve enjoyed this series quite a bit. It’s an interesting mix of genres. It was clear from early on that this was really science fiction, and that becomes increasingly apparent as the series progresses, but the setting feels more like a fantasy setting and the story-telling method makes it feel more like an epic fantasy story.
The story is a bit complicated. Maybe complicated is the wrong word, because it really isn’t difficult to follow or understand, but there are a lot of little bits and pieces that we’re introduced to separately. We have to weave some of those pieces together for ourselves to understand the bigger picture, and we have to be paying attention once the narrator finally weaves some of the other pieces together for us. I’ve seen several people say the series improves with re-reading, and I can definitely understand how that would be true. I felt like I grasped most of it, but I’m sure I missed more things than I realized and would understand other things more deeply if I ever read it again. This isn’t a series to pick up if you’re in the mood for a light read, but it’s a good one if you want something you can sink your teeth into.
Despite my above description, I wouldn’t necessarily call this a twisty series. On the one hand, the story ended very, very far from where I ever would have guessed based on its beginning. On the other hand, the foreshadowing is pretty blatant. There were surprises, but nothing shocking. Severian, our narrator, gives us small hints here and there, and he also flat-out tells us some things in advance. In other cases, he recounts conversations in which somebody gives him answers, but he somehow fails to grasp what he's told because it’s so contrary to what he believed to be true. So he ignores what he's told and continues to carry on as if his own beliefs were true. Then, later on in the narrative when he “discovers” the thing he had already been told and recounts it to us, he acts like we the reader should be as surprised as he was. Severian claims a few times that he’s not particularly intelligent, and I frequently agreed with him. :) Still, while he exasperated me a few times throughout the series, and occasionally did things I disliked very much, he also grew on me and I mostly enjoyed reading his story.
This book wrapped things up pretty well, although not in a neat bow for sure. Severian himself speculates about explanations for some of the things he never found definite answers for, and sometimes his speculations made me question things I had thought I knew the answers to. There’s also a pretty big “What happens next?” question at the end, as Severian’s life has recently taken a brand new twist and he has an upcoming task that sounds pretty interesting. I might have been a little exasperated if this had been the last book, so I look forward to reading the fifth book to hopefully find out where things go from here.
The Urth of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe, the fifth and final book in this series.