The Citadel of the Autarch (The Book of the New Sun #4)

0312890184.01._sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_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.

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The Sword of the Lictor (The Book of the New Sun #3)

0312890184.01._sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_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.

Peace and Turmoil (The Dark Shores #1)

1733664300.01._sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_Peace and Turmoil by Elliot Brooks
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Forces are at work in the lands of Abra’am that will cause the end of peace and bring about turmoil that hasn’t been seen since the War of Fire. Peace and Turmoil is the first book of The Dark Shores series by first time author and BookTuber Elliot Brooks, which follows four young people who are suddenly thrust from their peaceful lies into political turmoil.

Gwenivere, heir to the throne of Xenith, is expected to choose a suitor from amongst guest at a Peace Gathering even though her preferred choice of Roland, heir to the throne is Mesidia, is off limits because each is a Guardian of one of the fabled Artifacts of Eve. Roland along with his father King Pierre is dealing with a long simmering succession feud with the rival Victorians. Across the Dividing Wall mountain range in the desert kingdom of Sadie, the assassin-prince Dietrich is convinced by his younger brother to go to the Xenith Peace Gathering and find a way to get Roland’s Dagger of Eve to not only save their mother but give the family immortality in the face of insurrectionists that Dietrich has been killing. In the southern continent of Eve, the long-lived X’odia sees a vision of Dietrich being stabbed by his younger brother with the Dagger which will lead to the destruction of her homeland, the High Council sends her to Abra’am to prevent this from happening. By the end of the book, Gwenivere is on the run under the false assumption that she killed her father while Roland is in exile after the death of his family but with X’odia looking to find Dietrich to get the Dagger back not knowing his brother has already killed him, maybe.

Brooks divided her book into multiple point-of-views, dominated by the previous mentioned four characters plus numerous secondary characters. Of the four main character arcs, X’odia is by far the best from start to finish followed by Dietrich, which was enhanced by his brother’s point-of-view chapters. Brooks decision to indicate the location of where a chapter was occurring, including a section of the “world map”, was a brilliant touch. The inclusion of little tidbits of letters, messages, diary entries, etc. by known and unknown characters in-between chapters were a nice touch to add context to the world as well as foreshadow without being heavy-handed about it. And the magic system is something new and intriguing, but not overwhelmingly powerful. With all these positives, why is the rating so low? Unfortunately, the political developments occurring in the third quarter of the book that made no sense as well as the total incompetence of Gwenivere’s father King Gerard and Roland’s father Pierre just totally ruined the last half of the book after an interesting first half. The primary issue is fallout from the Attack of Fiends and the desire of four nations to intervene in Mesidia’s succession issue—that has been going on for several generations but all of a sudden is a “problem”—resulting in Gerard kowtowing to their wishes and joining them to save as many lives as possible. However, Pierre has the rebel leader—the she isn’t the potential new queen—in chains as a result of the Attack and confessed to her role while her daughter and the bloodline heir to the rival claim has become a voluntarily become a citizen of Xenith; Pierre has every right to behead the traitor then declare the four nations who support his rivals had declared war on his nation, Xenith—who’s capital was attacked—and the peace nation of Riverdee that Mesidian soldiers defended. And why Gerard doesn’t do the same, or at least threaten, is beyond me as well. Things just fall apart and frankly it’s hard not to see Gerard as a usurper of his own daughter because he was originally a Mesidian himself and married Gwenivere’s mother, who was Guardian and thus heir or reigning Queen at the time of their marriage but five years deceased at the beginning of the book. While there were other little pet peeves, they were nothing compared to these political issues.

Peace and Turmoil is Elliot Brook’s first published novel and the first in The Dark Shores series, yet while there are many positives it is the nonsensical political developments in this fantasy political novel which undermine the overall narrative and thus the overall enjoyment of the book.

The Bone Clocks

0812976827.01._sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Everything that happens has consequences in the future and one weekend for a 15-year old teenager after a fight with her mother has unexpected consequences throughout the rest of her life. The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell follows the life Holly Sykes through her own eyes and those four other characters during 60 years of her life.

The book begins with a 15-year old Holly Sykes leaving home after a fight with her mother, only to have a life altering weekend for herself involving a trip to a paranormal world that she forgets and her family as her younger brother disappears. The book ends with a 74-year old Holly taking care of and wondering about the future of her granddaughter and foster son as climate change and resource depletion are sending the world towards a new dark age, though a surprising return of an old acquaintance results in them having a future. Between these two segments we follow the lives of an amoral political student Hugo Lamb, Holly’s husband Ed, author Crispin Hershey, and Marinus who is both a new and old acquaintance of Holly’s for a period of time in which they interact with Holly during different periods of her life that at first seem random but as the narrative progresses interconnect with one another in surprising ways including glimpses into a centuries long supernatural war in which Holly was directly involved in twice.

From beginning to end, Mitchell created a page-turner in which the reader did not know what to expect. The blending of fiction and fantasy from the beginning then science fiction as the story went beyond 2014 (year of publication) as the narrative continued was expertly done. The use of first-person point-of-views were well done as was the surprise that the book wasn’t all through Holly’s point-of-view but switched with each of the six segments of the book giving the reader a mosaic view of Holly’s life. The introduction and slow filling in of the fantasy elements of the story were well done so when it really became the focus of the book in its fifth segment the reader was ready for it. On top of that the layers of worldbuilding throughout the book were amazing, as characters from one person’s point-of-view had random interactions with someone in another and so on. If there was one letdown it was the science fiction, nearly dystopian, elements of 2043 in which the political-economic setting seems farfetched—namely China who would be in trouble if there is an energy crisis and thus not dominate economically as portrayed in the book—that made the denouement land with a thud.

I had no idea what to expect from The Bone Clocks and frankly David Mitchell impressed me a lot, save for the final 10% of the book. The blending of straight fiction, fantasy, and science fiction was amazing throughout the narrative and the numerous layers of worldbuilding, plot, and slowly evolving of the mostly unseen supernatural war that was instrumental to main points of the narrative. If a friend were to ask me about this book I would highly recommend it to them.

The Claw of the Conciliator (The Book of the New Sun #2)

0312890176.01._sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_The Claw of the Conciliator by Gene Wolfe
My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Outside the walls of his home city for the first time, a young executioner on a mission finds himself amongst strange locations and stranger people. The Claw of the Conciliator by Gene Wolfe is the second volume of The Book of the New Sun tetralogy continuing the journey of Severian, an exiled torturer figuring out the world.

Picking up shortly after the last volume, Severian is in the mining village of Saltus with a new travelling companion Jonas after being separated from Dorcas and the theater company at the gate of Nessus. Severian believes he sees Agia, but after searching for her returns to his inn to take his mask and cape to execute an accused witch. Later that night he travels to an old mine, fights off man-apes, and comes face-to-face with Agia but doesn’t kill her even though he tricked him to get him there so see could have revenge and get possession of the titular Claw that she put on Severian’s person during the events of Shadow and Severian used during his fight with the man-apes. Severian and Jonas are then taken by associates of Vodalus, who they kill as they get to the revolutionary’s hide out in the forest. Severian and Jonas join Vodalus after taking part in a cannibalistic ritual, before heading off to the House Absolute on a mission from Vodalus. The two are captured by the guards and in a holding room are attacked, which results in Severian learning that Jonas is a robot with human skin. Using the knowledge acquired from the memories of the person they ate, Severian finds a way out of the holding room and Jonas leaves to find a way to get repaired. Severian wanders around the grounds, finding his sword, coming across the Autarch, and then is reunited with theater group and Dorcas. The five perform a play during which Baldanders turns and attacks the crowd resulting in the group running for it. Severian meets with them again on the road heading north, he and Dorcas head to Thrax while Dr. Talos attacks the other member the troupe resulting in her joining them and is attacked by a poisonous bat which results in her death in the ruins of a city while meeting with associates of Vodalus who perform a mystic ceremony.

This story was all over the place and it felt like the quality of everything connected with it was the same. There was significant worldbuilding with Severian getting out into the wider world as the previous fantasy feel was joined by sci-fi elements to create this unique landscape of future Earth. However while Wolfe created this interested background, the plot and the first-person narration were all over the place and whatever elements that were good were very much outweighed by the bad, in particular the nonsensical play that added nothing for approximately 15 pages and was just to set up Baldanders’ attack in the next very short chapter. And frankly every time Severian seems to become interesting, though by his own account, he does a 180 by disclaiming his own “perfect” memory or puts himself down.

The Claw of the Conciliator is a mishmash of good, bad, and frustration. A lot of this comes down to the writing of Gene Wolfe and primarily from the first-person point-of-view that creates most of the issues. Maybe after finishing the tetralogy I might get a better view of things, but frankly if this “classic” continues to be frustrating it’ll be a big disappointment.

The Shadow of the Torturer (The Book of the New Sun #1)

0312890176.01._sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_The Shadow of the Torturer by Gene Wolfe
My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

A young man breaks the cardinal rule of his guild and instead of the expected torture and death is sent out the only home he’s known to be a travelling executioner. The Shadow of the Torturer by Gene Wolfe is the first volume of The Book of the New Sun tetralogy following the life of Severian, an apprentice torturer who betrays his guild and brothers.

Raised within the ancient Citadel of Nessus by the Seekers of Truth and Penitence, aka the guild of torturers), Severian almost drowns in the River Gyoll and with some of his fellow apprentices goes into a necropolis where he encounters the legendary revolutionary Vodalus robbing a grave and helps him in fight with volunteer guards, earning him a gold coin from Vodalus. Later just before Severian becomes a journeyman, he meets a new client Thecla who is being used as a pawn to get to one of Vodalus’ associates. Because of her position, she asks that Severian talk with her and the two becomes friends even though Severian knows she’ll get tortured eventually. After her first torture session, Severian gives her a knife and after she slits her throat he turns himself in. Instead of torture and execution, Severian is sent out into the world as an executioner and given sword named Terminus Est. Venturing out further into Nessus than he ever had before, Severian scares people and is advised by the local guards to put something over his executioner’s garb. The next day after sharing a room with two charlatans he goes to a rag shop and when buying a mantle is challenged by a cavalry officer to a duel using an alien plant. The shop’s owner feeling responsible for this happening in his shop tells his sister, Agia, to show Severian how to prepare for the duel. The two journey around city to get his plant weapon and are joined by the mysterious Dorcas, who Agia dislikes though Severian is intrigued with. Facing his challenger, Severian survives a strike from the plant weapon surprising his opponent who attempts to run but onlookers attempt to stops him but he attacks him and kills several of them before he’s arrested by guards. The next day Severian wakes in a hospice and learns he is needed for an execution, visiting his client he finds Agia and her brother, who was his challenger, then realizes how naïve he was. After Severian executes Agia’s brother, he and Dorcas meet up with the charlatans while looking for some religious fanatics that Agia stole from only to learn they’ve left the city. The story ends on a cliffhanger because Severian decides to finish writing at that point.

There were a lot of things happening in this volume, which resulted in the story being both engaging and disengaging. The first person narration made the story very intimate, but also didn’t allow for the traditional world building which forced the reader to figure a lot of things out while trying to get a grip on the story itself. Yet once you figure things out the story becomes intriguing until Severian confronts the brother and sister in the prison cell and the brother’s reasons for challenging Severian are stupid. And the ending of Severian just deciding just to quit writing at the end of the story is weird as well. The fact that an older Severian is “writing” means that readers know he survives whatever happens, thus forcing Wolfe to take another direction which had both good and bad points.

The Shadow of the Torturer is a good story overall, though there are issues in the beginning and at the end that are somewhat disconcerting for a first time reader. Gene Wolfe created a very interesting protagonist and created several interesting twists throughout the story though some didn’t pay off as well as others while also laying seeds for future stories around Severian. This is an enjoyable volume that I’ll have to revisit with a reread in the future after completing the rest of the tetralogy.

Fire & Blood: From Aegon I to the Regency of Aegon III (ASOIAF- History)

152479628X.01._SX450_SY635_SCLZZZZZZZ_Fire & Blood by George R.R. Martin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The rise and fall of the Targaryens in Westeros over the course of 300 years is essentially the backstory for George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series (aka Game of Thrones). Taking on the guise as a master of the Citadel, Martin’s Fire & Blood: From Aegon I to the Regency of Aegon III is the first volume of two detailing the history of the Targaryen dynasty and the unified Westeros they ruled that readers would first meet in A Game of Thrones.

Unlike the vast majority of the books concerning Westeros, Martin writes this one as a pure—yet fictional—history book, though with a clear narrative structure, detailing the lives of the Targaryens and the events that impacted their reigns from Aegon’s Conquest down to the Regency of his great-great-great-grandson Aegon III in the aftermath of The Dance of the Dragons. The book begins with a quick family history of the Targaryens with their flight from Valyria before the Doom and the century leading up to Aegon’s conquest of Westeros before delving into said conquest with his sister-wives. Then just a regular history book, the text goes into how the new realm was brought together and how the Targaryens attempted to bring Dorne into the realm during Aegon’s life. Next came the reigns of the Conqueror’s two sons showing how the new dynasty was tested once the founder was missing and the problems faith and cultures play when interacting with one another. Follow the death of Maegor the Cruel, the long reign of Jaehaerys I with considerable influence from his sister-wife queen Alysanne shows how dynasty’s rule was cemented even though seeds were planted for a crisis in the succession of the line that would explode in civil war after the death of their grandson Viserys I between his eldest daughter and her younger half-brother that would devastate the realm and basically kill off all the dragons—both human and creature—leaving a 10-year boy left to sit the Iron Throne.

Although around half the material in this book was a reprint from A World of Ice and Fire, “The Princess and the Queen, “The Rogue Prince”, and “Sons of the Dragon” it was all the new material and some retconned details of this 700 page book that is really interesting. The reign of Jaehaerys and Alysanne was essentially all new as was the details about how The Dance of the Dragons ended and the resulting multiple Regencies for Aegon III. Along with all this information, which fleshed out the backstory of Westeros even more, were parallels of characters from the main series—as well as the Dunk & Egg novels—with historical personages that appeared in this history that gives big fans thoughts to ponder about what might be in store with the former.

Overall Fire & Blood: From Aegon I to the Regency of Aegon III is a very good book for those fans of ASOIAF/GoT who look in-depth at their favorite series. Personally as fan of the series and being interested in the depth Martin gives his series, as well as big history read, this book was fantastic. Yet if you are a casual fan or simple a show fan that hasn’t read the books, this book isn’t for you.

A Song of Ice and Fire