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|The Urth of the New Sun
by Gene Wolfe
Published by Tom Doherty, 1987
Amazon.com: hardcover, paperback
Amazon.ca: hardcover, paperback
Amazon.co.uk: hardcover, paperback
Highly Recommended by: Elliot Hanowski
Upon reading the completed Book of the New Sun, Gene Wolfe's editor asked him if he could add a paragraph at the end explaining that Severian later went off into space and brought back a new sun. Wolfe replied that he would need a lot more than a paragraph. The Urth of the New Sun was the result of that conversation. While the first four volumes of Severian's story can stand alone, they contain many hints and glimpses of the messianic Conciliator and the apocalyptic coming of the New Sun. Thus Urth expands, illuminates, and completes this epic tale.
Severian has been Autarch for ten years when we meet him again on the spaceship that is bearing him to Yesod, the universe higher than his own. He goes to be examined by the Hierogrammates, those exalted beings who seek to reshape humanity. On board he encounters any number of dangers and wonders, from intelligent suits of armor to mutant mutineers. One of the most interesting characters here is the furry creature Zak.
In Yesod, Severian is judged as the representative of all Urth in a strange trial which is only the completion of the examination that has gone on all throughout his journey. Here we meet Apheta, a woman who pulses with light, and the Hierogrammate Tzadkiel, who has great wings covered with eyes. His consciousness having been joined with a White Fountain that can renew the sun, Severian is returned to Urth, but at a time unfamiliar to him. He finds the people oppressed politically and fearful about the failing sun. Almost unintentionally he begins a journey of healing, teaching, and reconciliation which leads him to confrontations with a sorcerer and a tyrant.
Learning that he has the ability to travel through time as well as space, Severian moves to the point when the White Fountain arrives and resurrects the old sun. He finds himself caught up in scenes similar to those in Dr. Talos' play Eschatology and Genesis, reunited with his wife Valeria, as well as Baldanders, Juturna, and a prophetess whom he healed long ago. Now he witnesses the destruction and renewal of Urth, both horrifying and glorious. But even this is not the end of his journey.
Wolfe's prose is as rich and rewarding as ever, though the plot of Urth is less tightly constructed than that of the first New Sun books. At places it might be accused of meandering. On the other hand, as the barriers of time and space break down for him, it's understandable that Severian's narrative would also take some odd turns.
I've only scratched the surface in describing the many biblical and theological concepts that appear in this book there are beautiful scenes of creation, ransom, discipleship, resurrection, and salvation. Wolfe has said that Severian is not so much a Christ-figure as a Christian figure. Be that as it may, I've found that this novel opens up fresh and inspiring perspectives on the New Testament for me. In this regard, Wolfe's luminous work is comparable with the best from Christian masters like Tolkien and Lewis. (September, 2006)
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