The Book of the New Sun is unanimously acclaimed as Gene Wolfe's most remarkable work, hailed as "a masterpiece of science fantasy comparable in importance to the major works of Tolkien and Lewis" by Publishers Weekly, and "one of the most ambitious works of speculative fiction in the twentieth century" by The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Shadow & Claw brings together the first two books of the tetralogy in one volume:
The Shadow of the Torturer is the tale of young Severian, an apprentice in the Guild of Torturers on the world called Urth, exiled for committing the ultimate sin of his profession showing mercy toward his victim.
Ursula K. Le Guin said, "Magic stuff . . . a masterpiece . . . the best science fiction I've read in years!"
The Claw of the Conciliator continues the saga of Severian, banished from his home, as he undertakes a mythic quest to discover the awesome power of an ancient relic, and learn the truth about his hidden destiny.
"Arguably the finest piece of literature American science fiction has yet produced [is] the four-volume Book of the New Sun."Chicago Sun-Times
"The Book of the New Sun establishes his preeminence, pure and simple. . . . The Book of the New Sun contains elements of Spenserian allegory, Swiftian satire, Dickensian social consciousness and Wagnerian mythology. Wolfe creates a truly alien social order that the reader comes to experience from within . . . once into it, there is no stopping."The New York Times Book Review
About the Author
Gene Wolfe has been called "the finest writer the science fiction world has yet produced" by The Washington Post. A former engineer, he has written numerous books and won a variety of awards for his SF writing. He lives with his wife Rosemary in Barrington, Illinois.
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Shadow & ClawThe First Half of 'The Book of the New Sun'
By Wolfe, Gene
Orb BooksCopyright © 1994 Wolfe, Gene
All right reserved.
Resurrection and Death
It is possible I already had some presentiment of my future. The locked and rusted gate that stood before us, with wisps of river fog threading its spikes like the mountain paths, remains in my mind now as the symbol of my exile. That is why I have begun this account of it with the aftermath of our swim, in which I, the torturer's apprentice Severian, had so nearly drowned.
"The guard has gone." Thus my friend Roche spoke to Drotte, who had already seen it for himself.
Doubtfully, the boy Eata suggested that we go around. A lift of his thin, freckled arm indicated the thousands of paces of wall stretching across the slum and sweeping up the hill until at last they met the high curtain wall of the Citadel. It was a walk I would take, much later.
"And try to get through the barbican without a safe-conduct? They'd send to Master Gurloes."
"But why would the guard leave?"
"It doesn't matter." Drotte rattled the gate. "Eata, see if you can slip between the bars."
Drotte was our captain, and Eata put an arm and a leg through the iron palings, but it was immediately clear that there was no hope of his getting his body to follow.
"Someone's coming," Roche whispered. Drotte jerked Eata out.
I looked down the street. Lanterns swung there among the fog-muffled sounds of feet andvoices. I would have hidden, but Roche held me, saying, "Wait, I see pikes."
"Do you think it's the guard returning?"
He shook his head. "Too many."
"A dozen men at least," Drotte said.
Still wet from Gyoll we waited. In the recesses of my mind we stand shivering there even now. Just as all that appears imperishable tends toward its own destruction, those moments that at the time seem the most fleeting recreate themselves--not only in my memory (which in the final accounting loses nothing) but in the throbbing of my heart and the prickling of my hair, making themselves new just as our Commonwealth reconstitutes itself each morning in the shrill tones of its own clarions.
The men had no armor, as I could soon see by the sickly yellow light of the lanterns; but they had pikes, as Drotte had said, and staves and hatchets. Their leader wore a long, double-edged knife in his belt. What interested me more was the massive key threaded on a cord around his neck; it looked as if it might fit the lock of the gate.
Little Eata fidgeted with nervousness, and the leader saw us and lifted his lantern over his head. "We're waiting to get in, goodman," Drotte called. He was the taller, but he made his dark face humble and respectful.
"Not until dawn," the leader said gruffly. "You young fellows had better get home."
"Goodman, the guard was supposed to let us in, but he's not here."
"You won't be getting in tonight." The leader put his hand on the hilt of his knife before taking a step closer. For a moment I was afraid he knew who we were.
Drotte moved away, and the rest of us stayed behind him. "Who are you, goodman? You're not soldiers."
"We're the volunteers," one of the others said. "We come to protect our own dead."
"Then you can let us in."
The leader had turned away. "We let no one inside but ourselves." His key squealed in the lock, and the gate creaked back. Before anyone could stop him Eata darted through. Someone cursed, and the leader and two others sprinted after Eata, but he was too fleet for them. We saw his tow-colored hair and patched shirt zigzag among the sunken graves of paupers, then disappear in the thicket of statuary higher up. Drotte tried to pursue him, but two men grabbed his arms.
"We have to find him. We won't rob you of your dead."
"Why do you want to go in, then?" one volunteer asked.
"To gather herbs," Drotte told him. "We are physicians' gallipots. Don't you want the sick healed?"
The volunteer stared at him. The man with the key had dropped his lantern when he ran after Eata, and there were only two left. In their dim light the volunteer looked stupid and innocent; I suppose he was a laborer of some kind.
Drotte continued, "You must know that for certain simples to attain their highest virtues they must be pulled from grave soil by moonlight. It will frost soon and kill everything, but our masters require supplies for the winter. The three of them arranged for us to enter tonight, and I borrowed that lad from his father to help me."
"You don't have anything to put simples in."
I still admire Drotte for what he did next. He said, "We are to bind them in sheaves to dry," and without the least hesitation drew a length of common string from his pocket.
"I see," the volunteer said. It was plain he did not. Roche and I edged nearer the gate.
Drotte actually stepped back from it. "If you won't let us gather the herbs, we'd better go. I don't think we could ever find that boy in there now."
"No you don't. We have to get him out."
"All right," Drotte said reluctantly, and we stepped through, the volunteers following. Certain mystes aver that the real world has been constructed by the human mind, since our ways are governed by the artificial categories into which we place essentially undifferentiated things, things weaker than our words for them. I understood the principle intuitively that night as I heard the last volunteer swing the gate closed behind us.
A man who had not spoken before said, "I'm going to watch over my mother. We've wasted too much time already. They could have her a league off by now."
Several of the others muttered agreement, and the group began to scatter, one lantern moving to the left and the other to the right. We went up the center path (the one we always took in returning to the fallen section of the Citadel wall) with the remaining volunteers.
It is my nature, my joy and my curse, to forget nothing. Every rattling chain and whistling wind, every sight, smell, and taste, remains changeless in my mind, and though I know it is not so with everyone, I cannot imagine what it can mean to be otherwise, as if one had slept when in fact an experience is merely remote. Those few steps we took upon the whited path rise before me now: It was cold and growing colder; we had no light, and fog had begun to roll in from Gyoll in earnest. A few birds had come to roost in the pines and cypresses, and flapped uneasily from tree to tree. I remember the feel of my own hands as I rubbed my arms, and the lantern bobbing among the steles some distance off, and how the fog brought out the smell of the river water in my shirt, and the pungency of the new-turned earth. I had almost died that day, choking in the netted roots; the night was to mark the beginning of my manhood.
There was a shot, a thing I had never seen before, the bolt of violet energy splitting the darkness like a wedge, so that it closed with a thunderclap. Somewhere a monument fell with a crash. Silence then...in which everything around me seemed to dissolve. We began to run. Men were shouting, far off. I heard the ring of steel on stone, as if someone had struck one of the grave markers with a badelaire. I dashed along a path that was (or at least then seemed) completely unfamiliar, a ribbon of broken bone just wide enough for two to walk abreast that wound down into a little dale. In the fog I could see nothing but the dark bulk of the memorials to either side. Then, as suddenly as if it had been snatched away, the path was no longer beneath my feet--I suppose I must have failed to notice some turning. I swerved to dodge an oblesque that appeared to shoot up before me, and collided full tilt with a man in a black coat.
He was solid as a tree; the impact took me off my feet and knocked my breath away. I heard him muttering execrations, then a whispering sound as he swung some weapon. Another voice called, "What was that?"
"Somebody ran into me. Gone now, whoever he was."
I lay still.
A woman said, "Open the lamp." Her voice was like a dove's call, but there was urgency in it.
The man I had run against answered, "They would be on us like a pack of dholes, Madame."
"They will be soon in any case--Vodalus fired. You must have heard it."
"Be more likely to keep them off."
In an accent I was too inexperienced to recognize as an exultant's, the man who had spoken first said, "I wish I hadn't brought it. We shouldn't need it against this sort of people." He was much nearer now, and in a moment I could see him through the fog, very tall, slender, and hatless, standing near the heavier man I had run into. Muffled in black, a third figure was apparently the woman. In losing my wind I had also lost the strength of my limbs, but I managed to roll behind the base of a statue, and once secure there I peered out at them again.
My eyes had grown accustomed to the dark. I could distinguish the woman's heart-shaped face and note that she was nearly as tall as the slender man she had called Vodalus. The heavy man had disappeared, but I heard him say, "More rope." His voice indicated that he was no more than a step or two away from the spot where I crouched, but he seemed to have vanished like water cast into a well. Then I saw something dark (it must have been the crown of his hat) move near the slender man's feet, and understood that that was almost precisely what had become of him--there was a hole there, and he was in it.
The woman asked, "How is she?"
"Fresh as a flower, Madame. Hardly a breath of stink on her, and nothing to worry about." More agilely than I would have thought possible, he sprang out. "Now give me one end and you take the other, Liege, and we'll have her out like a carrot."
The woman said something I could not hear, and the slender man told her, "You didn't have to come, Thea. How would it look to the others if I took none of the risks?" He and the heavy man grunted as they pulled, and I saw something white appear at their feet. They bent to lift it. As though an amschaspand had touched them with his radiant wand, the fog swirled and parted to let a beam of green moonlight fall. They had the corpse of a woman. Her hair, which had been dark, was in some disorder now about her livid face; she wore a long gown of some pale fabric.
"You see," the heavy man said, "just as I told you, Liege, Madame, nineteen times of a score there's nothin' to it. We've only to get her over the wall now."
The words were no sooner out of his mouth than I heard someone shout. Three of the volunteers were coming down the path over the rim of the dale. "Hold them off, Liege," the heavy man growled, shouldering the corpse. "I'll take care of this, and get Madame to safety."
"Take it," Vodalus said. The pistol he handed over caught the moonlight like a mirror.
The heavy man gaped at it. "I've never used one, Liege..."
"Take it, you may need it." Vodalus stopped, then rose holding what appeared to be a dark stick. There was a rattle of metal on wood, and in place of the stick a bright and narrow blade. He called, "Guard yourselves!"
As if a dove had momentarily commanded an arctother, the woman took the shining pistol from the heavy man's hand, and together they backed into the fog.
The three volunteers had hesitated. Now one moved to the right and another to the left, so as to attack from three sides. The man in the center (still on the white path of broken bones) had a pike, and one of the others an ax.
The third was the leader Drotte had spoken with outside the gate. "Who are you?" he called to Vodalus, "and what power of Erebus's gives you the right to come here and do something like this?"
Vodalus did not reply, but the point of his sword looked from one to another like an eye.
The leader grated, "All together now and we'll have him." But they advanced hesitantly, and before they could close Vodalus sprang forward. I saw his blade flash in the faint light and heard it scrape the head of the pike--a metallic slithering, as though a steel serpent glided across a log of iron. The pikeman yelled and jumped back; Vodalus leaped backward too (I think for fear the other two would get behind him), then seemed to lose his balance and fell.
All this took place in dark and fog. I saw it, but for the most part the men were no more than ambient
shadows--as the woman with the heart-shaped face had been. Yet something touched me. Perhaps it was Vodalus's willingness to die to protect her that made the woman seem precious to me; certainly it was that willingness that kindled my admiration for him. Many times since then, when I have stood upon a shaky platform in some marketplace square with Terminus Est at rest before me and a miserable vagrant kneeling at my feet, when I have heard in hissing whispers the hate of the crowd and sensed what was far less welcome, the admiration of those who find an unclean joy in pains and deaths not their own, I have recalled Vodalus at the graveside, and raised my own blade half pretending that when it fell I would be striking for him.
He stumbled, as I have said. In that instant I believe my whole life teetered in the scales with his.
The flanking volunteers ran toward him, but he had held onto his weapon. I saw the bright blade flash up, though its owner was still on the ground. I remember thinking what a fine thing it would have been to have had such a sword on the day Drotte became captain of apprentices, and then likening Vodalus to myself.
The axman, toward whom he had thrust, drew back; the other drove forward with his long knife. I was on my feet by then, watching the fight over the shoulder of a chalcedony angel, and I saw the knife come down, missing Vodalus by a thumb's width as he writhed away and burying itself to the hilt in the ground. Vodalus slashed at the leader then, but he was too near for the length of his blade. The leader, instead of backing off, released his weapon and clutched him like a wrestler. They were at the very edge of the opened grave--I suppose Vodalus had tripped over the soil excavated from it.
The second volunteer raised his ax, then hesitated. His leader was nearest him; he circled to get a clear stroke until he was less than a pace from where I hid. While he shifted his ground I saw Vodalus wrench the knife free and drive it into the leader's throat. The ax rose to strike; I grasped the helve just below the head almost by reflex, and found myself at once in the struggle, kicking, then striking.
Quite suddenly it was over. The volunteer whose bloodied weapon I held was dead. The leader of the volunteers was writhing at our feet. The pikeman was gone; his pike lay harmlessly across the path. Vodalus retrieved a black wand from the grass nearby and sheathed his sword in it. "Who are you?"
"Severian. I am a torturer. Or rather, I am an apprentice of the torturers, Liege. Of the Order of the Seekers for Truth and Penitence." I drew a deep breath. "I am a Vodalarius. One of the thousands of Vodalarii of whose existence you are unaware." It was a term I had scarcely heard.
"Here." He laid something in my palm: a small coin so smooth it seemed greased. I remained clutching it beside the violated grave and watched him stride away. The fog swallowed him long before he reached the rim, and a few moments later a silver flier as sharp as a dart screamed overhead.
The knife had somehow fallen from the dead man's neck. Perhaps he had pulled it out in his agony. When I bent to pick it up, I discovered that the coin was still in my hand and thrust it into my pocket.
We believe that we invent symbols. The truth is that they invent us; we are their creatures, shaped by their hard, defining edges. When soldiers take their oath they are given a coin, an asimi stamped with the profile of the Autarch. Their acceptance of that coin is their acceptance of the special duties and burdens of military life--they are soldiers from that moment, though they may know nothing of the management of arms. I did not know that then, but it is a profound mistake to believe that we must know of such things to be influenced by them, and in fact to believe so is to believe in the most debased and superstitious kind of magic. The would-be sorcerer alone has faith in the efficacy of pure knowledge; rational people know that things act of themselves or not at all.
Thus I knew nothing, as the coin dropped into my pocket, of the dogmas of the movement Vodalus led, but I soon learned them all, for they were in the air. With him I hated the Autarchy, though I had no notion of what might replace it. With him I despised the exultants who failed to rise against the Autarch and bound the fairest of their daughters to him in ceremonial concubinage. With him I detested the people for their lack of discipline and a common purpose. Of those values that Master Malrubius (who had been master of apprentices when I was a boy) had tried to teach me, and that Master Palaemon still tried to impart, I accepted only one: loyalty to the guild. In that I was quite correct--it was, as I sensed, perfectly feasible for me to serve Vodalus and remain a torturer. It was in this fashion that I began the long journey by which I have backed into the throne.
This is an omnibus edition consisting of the novels: The Shadow of the Torturer, copyright 1980 by Gene Wolfe
Excerpted from Shadow & Claw by Wolfe, Gene Copyright © 1994 by Wolfe, Gene. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
To me, this is one of the best books from an incredibly underrated and important author. The New Sun series is on a par with the original Dune series, Dan Simmons' Hyperion series, and Asimov's Foundation series.
The characters contain a fantastic blend of medieval sensibility and modern humanity played against a far flung, yet hauntingly familiar backdrop. I found myself sympathizing with characters, that in lesser fiction, I would simply dismiss as the sum of their deeds and actions. Wolfe writes with a fortitude that both invites and in many ways forces the reader to interact with each character on a personal level.
To categorize this book as solidly in a single genre would be erroneous. There are aspects of sheer horror, misguided romance, high science fiction and fantasy, as well as portions that read biographically. It is so rich with metaphor and imagery, but is not mired down by it. Not many authors show the ability to write multi-texturally, and even fewer with the skill that Wolfe displays throughout this series. For these reasons, among many, this book will stick with the reader for long after it is finished.
I consider the New Sun series, specifically the first 4 books of it, to be some of the best fiction in my collection. They have not diluted over time through multiple re-readings, nor has their ability to impact my thoughts diminished. If you are looking for a series of books to involve, challenge, and excite, I would recommend you give these a try. It is a far cry from some of the easier science-fiction/fantasy pieces out there, but for me, the journey through these books has been worth it each and every time.
This was the first book written by Gene Wolfe that I had ever read, and I found it enthralling. Since then, I've read just about everything he has written. His is not an obvious or in-your-face style of writing; his wording is beautiful and descriptive, but ambiguious at the same time. I love the atmosphere he builds, as well. Very intelligent and unforgetable story. I highly recommend it, as well as his other works. Particularly Pirate Freedom and the Latro books.
Although the Saga of Severian the Torturer happens to take place in a fantastic setting, the writing style of Gene Wolfe is the sole fantastic element. Wolfe weaves poetic precision and art into his tale, and the tale (which is hardly one, according to conventional terms) focuses on finding the higher thought in a realistic world. Most life does not have a evident climax or solution, and this is such in Wolfe's masterpieces. the hero like the super climax, does not exist. Wolfe's writing stressed on these principals creates an uncanny sense of realism. The world he shapes and moves, however, can leap in a single written page. Wolfe's artistic writing sytle robustly illustrates in a few words what others can hardly do in a page. (the best kept secret in the literature world)
Abandon all your long-held preconceptions about fantasy and sci-fi literature because Gene Wolfe has totally re-written the rule book!
This edition of his masterwork contains both of the first two volumes in the epic tale that continues to grow to this day. Shasow of the Torturer and Claw of the Conciliator.
This series of fantasy/sci-fi novels finally succeeds where so many before have failed in trying to merge the two genres into one believable and incredibly detailed world!
Read the books....read them all! But don't fool yourself into thinking you know what will happen next because the entire series builds to one epic finale that you will never in your wildest fantasies be able to guess!
"It is no easy road" is the sort of literary dare both these novels end on. Should you take the dare?I'd say obviously yes if you are a Wolfe fan or like science fantasy. I don't fit in either category. I've often liked the journey of the Wolfe short stories I've come across but always felt let down by the payoff or felt that I couldn't solve some literary puzzle I had been given. As for science fantasy, I don't mind the amalgam, but I don't seek it out either. So, though I've certainly been aware of how much the Book of the New Sun has been lauded since it was first published, I was in no hurry to read it.Wolfe always intended the Book of the New Sun as a sole volume. Publishing realities - publishers did not routinely publish 800 page fantasies in those days - dictated that book be broken into four volumes, one a year starting in 1980.This first half, though, despite some wanderings in fables, tales, and a play nested in the main narrative, is pretty engaging. Our hero Severan is a member of the Order of Seekers of Truth and Penitence, and, while he's pretty matter of fact about his apprenticeship and training, we don't get a lot of details but just enough glimpses of his work to know that torturer is not a symbolic title. He's also possessed of an eidetic memory with the narrative leavened with bits of foreshadowings that his story will take some unexpected turns.We hear of his youth, an orphan left to the guild, his early encounter with Vodalus - a would be revolutionary whom Severan sort of imprints on, and the sin that sends him into exile: allowing Thecla, a noblewoman sentenced to a peculiar torture, to kill herself. Into exile, he takes Terminus Est, " The Line That Divides", his great sword. That's the first quarter of this volume. The rest of it covers his wanderings during exile until he settles into a provincial city as torturer. We get clues as to the past and present of this world, and Wolfe concludes each novel with a brief appendix explaining some, but not all, of his vocabulary and concepts. That part of Wolfe's puzzle, the nature of the world, I didn't mind as much as the story briefly stalling with all those other nested stories. And I liked Severan pausing the narrative to ruminate on the nature of love and other matters. And, as time goes on, we find out that, while Severan may have a photographic memory, that does not make him a reliable narrator in the matter of his relationship to Thecla.And the characters and scenes largely kept my interest: a mysterious green man and sailor, a giant and his odd doctor companion, a woman of extreme beauty, a woman perhaps retrieved from the dead, cannibalism (this story was written in the 1970s when memory transference via RNA ingestion was an idea that showed up), a prison inhabited by generations who know nothing outside its walls, and the Autarch - leader of this society.But, having gone the whole journey with Severan, I can tell you it does not end well. Still, this first half was enjoyable.
this book is hard core. Not sure I understood everything that was going on, but I couldn't put it down. Brilliant.
Rated as one of the best science fiction stories ever written, this book follows the story of Severian, a journeyman in the Guild of Torturers, who is cast out of the tower for permitting a client to suicide rather than face her allocated punishment. At times incomprehensible, I found that this book started slow and ended puzzlingly, but in the middle it was compelling and difficult to put down. An excellent read.
This book is really complicated and difficult to understand because it is written in a highly developed and detailed world the author has created. Wolfe also has a very strange writing style--he writes in first person narration but the narrator, Severian, is very untrustworthy and skips over things sometimes, meaning that the reader has to figure a lot of stuff out for themselves. From what I can tell people either love or hate Wolfe's style, and in my case I love it.
First half of the Book of the New Sun tetralogy. So different than the run-of-the-mill postindustrial SFF world. In fact, for most of the first book, it isn¿t clear whether this is a postindustrial or some kind of alternate medieval world. The language style is more epic and formal than most, too. But how can I not be impressed by a story that is not only metatextual, but at one point has two characters discuss semiotics, in a perfectly natural way?
What can I say? The Book of the New Sun, of which this omnibus is the first two parts of four, is a confounding and hypnotic spectacle. I first read this a few years ago and although I could not for the life of me figure out what was going on, I could also not put it down. The basic plot on the surface is the journey of Severian, the apprentice torturer, the Guild of Torturers being a sort of glorified quasi-religious sect of executioners. Severian is cast out of his Guild for showing a modicum of mercy and begins a long sojourn throughout the dying world of Urth, which is described alternately as our own past and future. Nothing is quite as it seems in these books, as the narrator, Severian, is unreliable and the language itself obfuscating. This is far from a straightforward story and it is not for everyone; it will cause many readers great frustration, particularly if they are not enamored with puzzles and double meaning. But, if you approach it with patience and a searching mind, there is much to find here.
I can feel and understand the genius of this work but I am -at least at this stage in my life- unable to express my feelings of admiration for this work and delight thereof. Suffice it to say, I still can not believe such a work can be created by a human being. I can not begin to understand the workings of such a mind especially when it comes to understanding the ability of expression of such complicated thoughts,impressions,ideas beautifully and pampering the intelligence of the reader.It is a must read but beware it is hard to tackle. If you persevere, you will be rewarded more than fairly.
This is like the Tolstoy of fantasy/sci-fi (it's a bit of a hybrid of the two); in other words, it's literature rather than pulp fiction, so don't expect fast action and cartoon characters. The idea behind it, from what I understand, is studying what the narrator leaves out and doesn't dwell on, as much as on what he describes. I have to confess, I pretty much just read it for the story and all that went over my head, but looking back I can sort of see what other reviewers are getting at. This deserves a re-read, if ever I've the patience, time and inclination.
A series unlike anything else you have ever read in any genre. Reading Wolfe, especially in this series, is to me very much like reading a painting. He can be tough to follow so reading this book does require you to think, as he makes extensive use of metaphors to paint the picture/story for you and time lines are mixed together with little explanation. That said, I found it be a very rewarding read, unique all around and easily one of the best sci-fi/fantasy stories ever written.
This book only pays off with effort. I am not the most well read person and I found this book tough. I was often unsure what was going on and had to re read certain parts. However the author has produced a truly original book with a great story line. The main character is exceptional as are all the concepts. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys fantasy and who wants to read more challenging novels. I'm sure some of the books meaning was lost on me. For instance I read in another review that The lead character, who tells the story, constantly lies to the reader. This seems like a really good idea but I cant say I noticed it happening at all.
This is one of the greates fiction books written ever. It is a true masterpiece. It works and suceeds on every level.
Wolfe is one of my favorite writers. Lack of exposition and the unreliabilty of the narrator become, eventually, the plot. Displaying (or exposing) simultaneously, an impressive education in the classics and a one dimensional, twelve year old's view of half of humankind, I still put him at the top of the heap. Latro in the mist is my personal favorite.
The Book of the New Sun is beautifully written. This book not only demands every bit of your attention, but also holds it hostage.
This was an 'interesting' read. Wolfe's writing is enthralling, beautiful, simplistic, droll, and exciting. Each chapter of the first 2 books seems to raise about a dozen questions--are these characters human; is this past, future, alternate present--without satsfactorily answering any of them while the protagonist Severian meanders through a Homer-esque quest to basically walk down the street. I found the end of the first book and the beginning of the second book particularly jarring, as half of the established cast inexplicably disappears, snd instead is replaced by a new character who is introduced almost like an afterthought in the last pages of the first. This random guy then becomes the Severian's sole companion for fully 2/3 of the second book. Oh, and he's a robot? These books are strange. Interesting, sure. Good? I'm not so sure. I guess I'd have to read the rest to make a decision, but I'm really not sure I want to.
Review of The Shadow of the Torturer (Part 1 of Shadow and Claw) Gene Wolfe and the New Sun series appears on a lot of must-read lists. so I got around to reading the first book. I did read this in conjunction with a Goodreads science-fiction and fantasy book club. The responses to The Shadow of the Torturer fell into two camps, broadly speaking. I fell into the "enjoyed it camp." The book is not an easy read. Why? Wolfe writes in a postmodern vein, which is a way of saying that if you are seeking clarity in plot, characters, and motivations, you won't find it here. That is not saying Wolfe does not provide a plot and whatnot, but he constantly undermines all of it by wordplay, ambiguity, and confusion. Instead, you constantly question yourself, what you know because--at least for me--the essential question of postmodernism is can you anything truly. So the language subverts what we can know, and Wolfe uses a plethora of antique words: carnifex, amphitryon, gyoll, noyade, and on and on. If you don't like using a dictionary (and an excellent dictionary) this book may not be of interest to you. As a part of that, the appendix promotes a postmodern reading of this book. You begin the novel and, if you're like me, pulling out the dictionary to check meanings on many out-of-date terms. The story adds layers upon layers and never allows you to have a settled perception. Then comes the appendix, which throws another layer on it. The "translator" of Severian's tale found proximate words or, in the case of Latin terms, crafted something for unknown words. In other words, a lot of the words you've been hanging onto to allow for comprehension, Wolfe pretty much blows up. What you thought you knew may not be what you thought you knew. Though it could be still. Sometimes even the characters seem confused by the terminology or events. All of this is subtly told. Plot: Severian, a journeyman in the guild of torturers, is exiled from the city Nessus for a crime against the guild. By the end of the novel, Severian has encountered a number of characters and some exploits, and arrives at a giant wall and gate without much in between--yet it's a hefty 600 some pages (ebook). Wolfe is a masterful writer with a stunning grasp of English and the multiplicity of meanings (historical and popular) that words have, a way reminiscent of Vladimir Nabokov (a writer I greatly admire). This is a novel that will stand up to multiple readings because the smallest of details, the smallest of perceptions of not only the reader but the characters open up entirely new avenues of meaning. A highly recommended novel.