Book Of The New Sun series, should I give it another go?

I like scifi/fantasy epics with world building a lot, the original Dune is one of my favorite books.

Started the first book in the series and was immediately put off by the large glossary before the book even starts, we begin in media res in a grave yard where some kind of unclear magic is going on and the “we call rabbits smeerps” words are coming fast and hard and the writing style is very stilted and I dunno I just couldn’t continue past about ten pages.

Should I give this one another try?

Yes. The book is one of the few multivolume books that was worth the time.* The society is deliberately meant to be opaque at first – it’s in the very far future and nothing remains of our current world.

Note that the glossary is not needed and the early editions didn’t have it. It was put there for people not imaginative enough to figure things out by context (much like the glossary in some editions of A Clockwork Orange). Just skip over it.

But the language is some of the best writing in the genre, and the story will constantly amaze you.

*That’s because it’s a single book; Wolfe knew it was too long to be put into one volume, given the book technology of the time, so ends each book with the same paragraph saying, basically, “I’ve taken you from point A to point B. You can stop here if you like, or continue with me.”

What he said.

I’ve been meaning to re-read this for years, since I’m pretty sure I didn’t understand most of it the first time around. But even though the book was too smart for me, I enjoyed it.

I started this book when I was sick and once I got better (it was a stomach virus or the like) I have never been able to return to it. I opened the thread, interested to know if I should pick it up again, and immediately felt nauseated.

I’m talented.

I read this a long time ago and really liked it at the time. Apparently there were some wider elements to the story that went over my head, I was more interested in the day-to-day adventures of Severian’s journey.

When I read the Farseer serieseseses by Robin Hobb, it reminded me of Book of the New Sun somehow.

Gene Wolfe is a difficult writer, he doesn’t make things easy. He doesn’t write pap. His writing in complex and engaging, and requires that you think and figure it out. If you’re looking for a book to read on the beach, I wouldn’t recommend it. If you’re looking for a book that will challenge your imagination, go fer it.

Actually if Wolfe were to have put rabbits into the book he wouldn’t have called them a random made up word like smeerp but rather derived a name from a real world archaic term for rabbit. Thus a warhorse is a destrier, a sword might be a falchion and Severian takes up office as a lictor, all of which are terms you might find in a dictionary – or Wikipedia. Some terms are more obscurely derived like “merychip” for a different kind of horse, this coming from Merychippus, an extinct proto horse. If, knowing this, it still drives you nuts, fair enough but I love this use of language.



I don’t remember if Severian ever mentions rabbits, but he does run across cavies.


I’m reading it now for the first time. I am halfway through the first book. Severian has just been sent away for giving a knife to the girl so she could kill herself. He has been sent to Thrax to serve in some role there.

It’s definitely an interesting book. I can’t imagine every having the confidence to write something like this. It…takes its time, but has not felt like it is wasting time. When he stopped to talk to the head librarian(curator), I could see some people wondering what is taking so long, but it was interesting to me.

I may actually insert other short books in-between the four parts of this one larger book. However, I am definitely interested in what lies ahead. I…have no idea what kind of story this will be. I have zero predictions for what is coming for the protagonist.

I adore “Book of the New Sun”. What a great series. I was introduced to Wolfe by The Knight and The Wizard so I recommend those if you enjoy “Book of the New Sun”.

I find where Wolfe fails sometimes is … well… he seems to really love sailing. Like really loves sailing. So I find some of his sailing focused books, such as On Blue’s Water and Pirate Freedom, get tedious.

I really enjoyed these books when I first read them at 18 or maybe 20. I’ve never made it through a re-read, though. Not sure why.

Severian is an unreliable narrator, but he’s got an excellent memory for details, and he’s telling his story to you knowing how it all comes out.

Pretty much everything that seems like Wolfe is overindulging in pointless world-building ends up having a point. It may not be a major point, and probably you won’t miss much if you don’t pick up on it - but, when you feel Wolfe is meandering, that’s probably a sign something will come up again.

Also, if Severian makes a throwaway comment, it’s likely insightful.

You can easily enjoy the books on a shallow level, but on a deeper read it’s intricately put together.

edit: I also think that an easier introduction to Wolfe’s writing is Soldier of the Mists, about a Latin soldier in Ancient Greece with anterograde amnesia.

I really enjoyed The Book of the New Sun, but I never read any of his other works. Are the follow-ups worth pursuing?

Other than The Book of the New Sun, I strongly recommend:

The Wizard Knight
The Book of the Long Sun
The Sorcerer’s House

If you like short stories, I very much enjoyed Starwater Strains.

The Long Sun/New Sun/Old Sun/Whatever Sun has been on my ‘to read’ list for two decades but I can never manage to find the right place to start.

Any suggestions?

I read it when it first came out and loved it; as other have mentioned Wolfe is a tricky writer - you’ll need to notice patterns and facts that Severian doesn’t notice.

I’d start with Book of the New Sun.

I came back to the thread when it was bumped and… yep, still nauseated by the thought of reading this book. My brain is UTTERLY convinced that this book gave me a stomach bug. :smiley: