The Citadel of the Autarch by Gene Wolfe
My rating: 2 out of 5 stars
Wandering towards the North and the ongoing war with a broken, the former torturer Severian nears the end of his journey just to begin another. The Citadel of the Autarch is the final installment of Gene Wolfe’s The Book of the New Sun tetralogy following the exiled torturer Severian’s journey away from the Citadel and how he returned.
Severian continues his wandering North towards the war when he finds a dead soldier and brings him back to life using the Claw. They find the Pelerines Camp and are cared back to health as Severian had picked up a bad fever. While recovering he is selected to judge a storytelling contest, but before he can render his verdict, he returns the Claw to the Pelerine alter and is asked by the Camp’s leader to find a holy man close to the front and save him. Severian goes, meets the man in his house of multiple time periods, but the man disappears while Severian is leading him away from the house. Returning to the camp alone, Severian finds it has been attacked and abandoned. Finding the new camp, he sees his new friends either dead or with worse injures than original. Severian wanders again and falls into an auxiliary cavalry unit and joins an attack on the Ascians but is injured and saved by the Autarch himself after the battle. The Autarch, the androgynous brothel guide of Shadow and Vodalus’ agent in the House Absolute in Claw, gives Severian a lift in his flier which is shot down and tells Severian to eat a piece of him so he can become the new Autarch. Severian does so but is captured by Vodalus’ rebel forces which as Agia in the ranks wanting to kill him. But after joining up with the Ascian army, Severian is rescued by the green man he saved in Claw via a time tunnel where Severian meets aliens that as Autarch he’ll be tested to allow man to return to the stars if he success or neuter him if he fails like the previous Autarch. Dropped off on a beach, Severian finds a new Claw of the Conciliator and makes his way back to Nessus and the Citadel. Using the memories off all the previous Autarchs, Severian sends the Citadel into an uproar of activity. He returns to his first home in the torturer’s tower, figures out that Dorcas is his grandmother who died soon after giving birth to his father who was sent a warning message in Shadow, and has a philosophical rant about what his position is before being whisked off the planet to be tested.
This story was engaging up until the Autarch returned to the story and Severian awful philosophizing began in earnest. Though Wolfe wrapped up several storylines or wrote things to just end, I really didn’t care because of how much I had disliked the previous two installments especially Sword. Severian is an unreliable point-of-view character, which wouldn’t be bad if he wasn’t the only point-of-view or completely nuts or stupid or whatever Wolfe decided to have him be in a given chapter. The cosmic philosophizing by the aliens or Severian’s attempt at it becomes unreadable because I by now don’t care and just wanted to see the story ended or interesting things happen. Honestly, each story in the storytelling contest were better stories that this one or the entire tetralogy together.
The Citadel of the Autarch ends Gene Wolfe’s classic The Book of the New Sun as well as my interest in anything written by Gene Wolfe. While this final installment is better than its immediate predecessor, the series went into a decline right after the first book. I don’t get the hype of this fantasy-science fiction “classic” and feel it’s overrated.