“Sword and Citadel” combines “The Sword of the Lictor” and “The Citadel of the Autarch” in one volume. The omnibus concludes the 'autobiographical' writings that detail Severian's ascent from apprentice torturer to the ruler of the Commonwealth.
Other reviews have painted “The Book of the New Sun” as complex and confusing, and I can only agree with those sentiments. While there is a complexity to the series that is the hallmark of all works that achieve literary greatness, I can't help but wonder how much of that complexity was entirely necessary. Certainly, the world in which the tale occurs, as well as the themes explored, not only benefited from but required several layers. However, there comes a point where metaphor and language no longer enrich the work but rather obscure or detract from the message.
The reader will wade through inconsistent characterizations, conflicting versions of events (from the same character point of view, no less), abrupt shifts in the 'when' of the story and some arcane vocabulary. Given the oblique nature of the prose, this makes “The Book of the New Sun” a pretty tough nut to crack. Yes, Wolfe's use of language is distinct and endearing. Sometimes, it's absolutely beautiful and it certainly possesses the requisite poetry of good literature. This is a master work of science fantasy; it could not be recognized as anything less. But honestly, if it had been more accessible or easier to understand, none of its messages would have been lost. Its artistic value would not be diminished if it had been less burdensome to unravel.
TLDR: One tentative thumb up. Come for the world building and metaphor, stay for the metaphysics. I didn't always enjoy the journey but very much enjoyed the reward at the end.
“I had the feeling, which I have often had when talking with old people, that the words he said and the words I heard were quite different[.]”
“Like most of the wise tags put forward for the edification of young men, it was inarguable and unhelpful.”
“You say he's a prisoner. What did he do?” “Do? Why, he didn't die.”
“You're a materialist, like all ignorant people. But your materialism doesn't make materialism true.”
“As you should know better than almost anyone, the sufferings we endure in this life make possible all the happy crimes and pleasant abominations we shall commit in the next... aren't you eager to collect?”
“There is no limit to stupidity. Space itself is said to be bounded by its own curvature, but stupidity continues beyond infinity.”
“Youth, you see, is a disease, and we may hope to catch a mild case.”