Citadel of the Autarch by Gene Wolfe
Published: Timescape Books, 1983
Series: Book 4 of the Book of the New Sun
Awards Nominated: BSFA, Locus Fantasy, and Nebula Awards
Awards Won: John W. Campbell Memorial Award
The below may contain spoilers for the series.
“Severian continues his journey, and now it leads him into war. He still searches for the Pellerines, in order to return the sacred artifact called the Claw of the Conciliator. Severian will have to face who he is and who he must become, if there is to be any hope for the future of Urth and its dying star.” ~Alli
This is another audiobook that I listened to during my commute. Reviews of the previous three books in the series can be found here, here, and here.
The Citadel of the Autarch seems pretty much the same as the previous three volumes, with Severian wandering around, having experiences, and listening to stories. This time he comes into an area at war, which is somewhat less exciting to me than when he was traveling in Nessus or in the mountains. One of the highlights of this section for me was a storytelling competition that he oversees among fellow patients in a sickroom. The competition provided an interesting chance to see the values of a variety of different cultures on the planet, including the Ascians, who can only speak in discrete set phrases (perhaps a pun on ASCII). As the series comes to a close, many of the mysteries from throughout the story are cleared up, and there are some interesting thoughts on identity and time travel.
I’d been delaying writing this review for a while now, both because I’ve been very busy and because the overall completed series has left me unenthused. I can tell that this is a very carefully constructed tetraology, and I can understand how many people have probably had a lot of fun analyzing it. The world is also complex, and I have enjoyed uncovering different aspects of it slowly through Severian’s experiences. Ultimately, though, there are no characters that I particularly care about, and I didn’t find the plot particularly engaging. Severian wanders from encounter to encounter, and he is surprisingly passive through it all. I was hoping there would be something more to his being made into the autarch than fate, but that doesn't seem to be the case. The series has certainly had its moments, but in the end I think I have to admit that it just doesn’t speak to me.
My Rating: 2.5 / 5
I had a hard time getting into this classic series, and ultimately I think it is just not for me. I think the first novel is a pretty good indicator for whether or not you will enjoy the series as a whole, since it continues in much the same manner. This last installment was less interesting for me, since it largely featured a war I never managed to care about, and since I was underwhelmed by the conclusion of Severian’s personal story. I have never been especially engaged by the characters or the plot, and my main joy from these novels has been from reading experiences of Severian’s that are either creepily atmospheric, point out creative aspects of the world of Urth, or both. I know a lot of people love these books, and I gave it my best shot. In the end, I probably should have accepted earlier that this just wasn’t going to be my kind of series.