A sequel to Wolfe's epic fantasy tetralogy praised extravagantly in many circles--The Book of the New Sun, and billed as independently intelligible; but if you haven't read the tetralogy (and maybe even if you have) you'll be floundering from the start. The plot here, prefigured in The Citadel of the Autarch (1982, the concluding New Sun volume), concerns Autarch Severian's quest to bring the life-giving New Sun to dying Urth. He embarks on a vast spaceship of the alien Hierodules (sort of cosmic avatars), which, with its solar sails, travels through space and time to planet Yesod, where the godlike, winged being Tzadkiel will render judgment. Eventually, Severian, having been defended in a battle to the death by eidolons of his bitterest enemies on Urth against Urth-derived solar sailors (who realize that the advent of the New Sun will destroy old Urth before the new Urth, or Ushas, arises), wins a favorable decision; he becomes cosmically bound to a white hole that, crossing eons of time and space, will finally arrive to rejuvenate the old sun. All this, however, is but the barest outline; the substance is far too complex and detailed to summarize. Another brilliantly inventive, dense, demanding, at times intellectually stunning effort. Yet the flaws that marred the tetralogy are also apparent here: a narrative virtually devoid of emotion, a general lack of texture, and frequently impenetrable metaphysical musings. Narrator Severian remains a remote, unengaging protagonist: he reacts but rarely acts; his thought processes remain opaque. Dazzling, yes. Satisfying, no.