The Sword of the Lictor by Gene Wolfe
My rating: 1.5 out of 5 stars
Upon reaching his assigned city, a young executioner goes on the run from the city’s Archon after failing to kill someone and travels further north towards a war he’s only ever heard of. The Sword of the Lictor by Gene Wolfe is the third volume of The Book of the New Sun tetralogy continuing the tale of the exile executioner Severian attempting to figure out what is happening in this slowly dying Urth.
Having arrived in Thrax and taking up his position as Lictor of the city, Severian finds Dorcas depressed to the lover of the city’s most hated man and wondering about her past life. The Archon invites Severian to a costume party to kill someone, upon his arrival he meets a woman in a Pelerine’s robe who faints and once Severian helps revive her then is seduced only to find out that she’s the individual the Archon wants dead. Instead Severian shows her mercy then escapes a fire creature looking to kill him and sees Dorcas off as she leaves to the South to find out about her past. Severian takes to the mountains heading to the North and runs to Agia whose allied with the man behind the fire creature to kill Severian, but after an attack by an Alzabo they go their separate ways. Severian adopts a young boy also named Severian and they journey North, encountering a village of possible sorcerers when a black oily creature attacks looking for the older Severian but results in saving the two travelers. Coming across an abandoned city, the boy is killed and Severian thwarts a resurrected tyrant from using him. Continuing his journey Severian arrives at a lakeshore and is drugged by the village leader to be taken across the lake to the castle of a giant, but Severian escapes and gets aid for the waterfolk who ask him to lead them against the giant to is enslaving them. Arriving at the castle, Severian discovers that Dr. Talos and Baldanders run the castle with the former being a creation of the latter. After conversations with aliens, the three men fight and the waterfolk help finish off the giant Baldanders after Severian kills Talos. Continuing towards the North, Severian attempts to digest everything he’s experienced.
Where to begin, I don’t know if Severian thinks with his penis too much or Wolfe writes him to be just stupid. Throughout the story there is more and more sci-fi elements brought into narrative with some nice fantasy touches, however because Severian continually becomes an unlikeable character because his first-person narration is all over the place thus making the flow of the plot disjointed. The fact he can’t just kill Agia after she admits to attempting to kill him just makes Severian look incompetent. There is a chapter devoted to Severian reading a story from a book to the young Severian, the story was obvious a combination of the Roman foundation myth and the Jungle Book but was a highlight of the overall story because unlike the nonsensical play in Claw it was the most enjoyable part of this particular installment.
The Sword of the Lictor continues the downward spiral of this “classic” due to the fact that the point-of-view protagonist continues to get more unlikeable because of his clear stupidity and that fact that Gene Wolfe can’t put together a narrative that makes for good reading. With this as the penultimate installment of the tetralogy, my hope for the finale isn’t high.