this post was originally published on my Goodreads account.
It’s interesting how Gene Wolfe approaches his world, taking the “hero leaves the city to go on a quest” formula and doing unexpected things with it. For one thing, the hero doesn’t leave the city until the end of the first book, and for another, there’s a remarkable lack of background color–if we see something described, it’s got direct significance to the plot. And yet, at the end of the book, we still know stuff about the world we didn’t before. The way we matter-of-factly move from encounter to encounter, each one seemingly full of a significance we can never fully understand, is an utterly unique experience to me in modern fantasy, and really the only things I can compare it to are poems like The Divine Comedy and The Faerie Queene.
Obviously, this is only half a novel, but I love the world, with its unfathomable, uncountable millions packed into cities so big that the wall is a line on the horizon, and its wildernesses full of evolved humanoids that seem to be have settled into their own ecological niche, and the characters, while distant from the reader, inspire affection in me, even if I don’t always understand why they do what they do. Lots of fantasy worlds start by feeling massive, only for the heroes to travel to every single place and befriend or kill every single leader of every country in what seems like a matter of months. The first half of Book of the New Sun shows how you can make your world feel truly massive through restraint.