Gene Wolfe’s Sword & Citadel is a nice new omnibus of the third and fourth volumes in the series known as The Book of the New Sun. This new edition contains two classics of science fantasy The Sword of the Lictor and The Citidel of the Autarch in one package, with the bonus of a new introduction by celebrated author Ada Palmer.
This introduction is both thoughtful and entertaining, digressing into discussions of various other artistic pieces while also being able to reunite them into something connecting back to the text. While the books serve perfectly well without this piece, it is a very nice addition.
Severian is a professional torturer who took great pride in his work, yet by the time of The Sword of the Lictor he sincerely doubts the morality of what he is doing. His travels and work help lend further to this realization, but at the same time it seems strange to him to consider other ways of life. Many of the pages of this volume contain stories tols by the characters, parables, fables, fairy tales or simply unusual stories to those passing them along. Each of these tends to be entertaining enough in it’s own right, yet also serve to foreshadow, illustrate character, or drive home theme.
Themes include the effect a different point of view can have upon how one sees the world. Through this themes of necessity of violence and questions of changing oneself are pushed forward, yet there are repeated looks at social class as it relates to corruption as well. Indeed, the repeated looks at the very flawed protaganist, and his own looks at the oddities of his world, indicate that the society is deeply and unquestionably flawed.
Still, it is hard to deny that there is a certain level of interpretation required for this book. Severian is confused and has a severely limited point of view and may in fact be a classic unreliable narrator.
At the end of each novel comes a nice appendix written as though examining the setting from a backward looking point of view while treating the material within as questionable in strange ways. Given the cyclical nature of some pieces of the tale, this retrospective nature feels appropriate.
This edition re-uses early cover art by Don Maitz. Given how often new art supplant old in such editions, this book proves especially nice for bringing back the old, which serves well enough in depicting an approximation of imagery that appears within. The image has been flipped horizontally in comparison to some past paperbacks, yet is quite effective.
For someone looking for editions of books 3 and 4 of The Book of the New Sun, this represents a wonderful and economical option. A new reader would do well to pick up the first omnibus, Shadow & Claw, first. That said, the new material is entertaining, and the packaging is an excellent way to get the work.