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The Shadow of the Torturer by Gene Wolfe

The Shadow of the Torturer (1980)

by Gene Wolfe

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: The Book of the New Sun (1), Solar Cycle (1)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
2,004585,566 (3.85)3 / 91
This is the first volume of the series The Book of the New Sun, which tells about the varying fortunes of Severian the Torturer. One other is: The Claw of the Conciliator (1983).

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English (56)  Spanish (1)  Finnish (1)  All languages (58)
Showing 1-5 of 56 (next | show all)
I was awash in strange expectations and assumptions before picking up this book, and after coming out the other side, I'm happy to say that this thoughtful novel pleased me.

It didn't wow me, but it certainly pleased me. I was very worried it wouldn't because the period of the late seventies and early eighties was a time of Fantasy that I just never really liked.

What? But this novel is SF!

Yes it is, and I loved all the old incorporation of alien life, our dying sun, quantum physics extrapolations and Odd Reality, but at its heart, the novel reads just like a Fantasy.

The apprentice must face a difficult choice, is engaged with wise old men, must suffer the consequences of his heroic and/or compassionate actions, and is thus expelled to make a way into the wide and difficult world carrying a sword and a complex menagerie of companions.

Sound familiar?

I might have balked at such a blatant use of tropes for an SF novel had it not also been full of characters I truly liked. What a relief! Plus, I'm a freaking sucker for libraries and book-talk, even when the books and philosophies entertained are of a far-off time and "supposedly" alien to us.

In point of fact, this far-off time feels more like a feudal dark-ages and I really got into the novel by the point it felt like a shadow of [b:A Canticle for Leibowitz|164154|A Canticle for Leibowitz|Walter M. Miller Jr.|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1450516880s/164154.jpg|250975]. It didn't end there, by far, but that was the point it grabbed me and didn't let go. :)

The rest of the adventure and the discussions of love and affection and sex, even with the societal ick of institutionalized sex-work, was somewhat hit-and-miss for me, though, but I couldn't help but be charmed by Severain's puppydog-outlook. It might annoy others, but it felt like some of the most genuine parts of the novel.

Lastly, I loved the world-building. It was all understated and slipped in so gently that we the readers were delightfully focused upon the characters long enough to be surprised by the full weight of the world. It didn't hit me over the head. Instead, it charmed. :)

I don't think I'm going to have any issues reading the rest of these novels, and that's a real surprise for me! Like I said, I have had a lot of bad experiences with Fantasy during this time period. But then, that begs the question, doesn't it? Maybe I'm simply freer with praise and lax criticism because it is, ostensibly, SF?

I admit I might be influenced by my expectations in both directions, but it doesn't change the fact that I liked the novel. :)

( )
  bradleyhorner | Jun 1, 2020 |
Should have been two stars.

It's simple:
* perfectly well written, but
* nothing really happens

It just got too boring. ( )
  GirlMeetsTractor | Mar 22, 2020 |
The setting, the events, the writing - all worthwhile. I just don't understand the motivation to keep reading - the main character isn't fleshed out with a driving desire, he isn't accomplishing his externally motivated tasks (he got sidetracked on the way to his new posting about a hundred pages in and never gets back on track) and the main thread relating to a woman he loved doesn't really get tugged very often. I feel lost in a swamp of possibly-relevant chapters. Maybe this is why this book and the next one are often lumped into the same volume, I'll circle back if the story is more compelling after reading the second book. ( )
  sarcher | Jul 7, 2019 |
I loved the beginning of this novel. The writing is superb and the pacing was powerful. The first few chapters of this book struck me more than most books I've ever read. But once the narrative started "moving," my interest in the story greatly diminished. Things move too quickly with not enough explanation. The characters, excepting perhaps the narrator, felt flat, even if interesting. My favorite aspect was the extremely slow revelation of the world's setting. ( )
  petermoccia | Mar 20, 2019 |
I found this book to be dull. In reading other reviews they refer to the great prose and descriptions and character development (which I agree with), however the plot is dull and there is no compelling underlying story that grips the reader. I will not be continuing the series ( )
  muwaffaq | Mar 20, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 56 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (11 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Wolfe, GeneAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Davis, JonathanNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Desmond, William OlivierTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Domènech, LuisTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ewyck, Annemarie vanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Heinz, ReinhardTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lindgren, NilleTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Maitz, DonCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Masera, RubénTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pennington, BruceCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Tamás, GáborTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vainikainen-Uusitalo… JohannaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Information from the French Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to your language.
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A thousand ages in thy sight
Are like an evening gone;
Short as the watch that ends the night
Before the rising sun
First words
It is possible I already had some presentiment of my future.
To those who have preceded me in the study of the posthistoric world, and particularly to those collectors - too numerous to name here - who have permitted me to examine artifacts surviving so many centuries of futurity, and most especially to those who have allowed me to visit and photograph the era's few extant buildings, I am truly grateful. G.W. (Appendix)
That we are capable only of being what we are remains our unforgivable sin.
All of which is only to say that there exists between them [beast handlers] and the animals they bring to the pits a bond much like that between our clients and ourselves. Now I have traveled much farther from our tower, but I have found always that the pattern of our guild is repeated mindlessly [...] in the societies of every trade, so that they are all of them torturers, just as we. His quarry stands to the hunter as our clients to us; those who buy to the tradesman; the enemies of the Commonwealth to the soldier; the governed to the governors; men to women. All love that which they destroy. [32]
"But now, dear friends," he rose and dusted his trousers, "now we are come to the place, as some poet aptly puts it, where men are pulled apart by their destinations." [Dr Talos, 377]
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Cloîtré depuis l'enfance entre les murs austères de la tour Matachine, l'apprenti bourreau Sévérian ignore tout des ruelles bruissantes de Nessus et, au-delà, des merveilles et dangers de la planète Teur... jusqu'au jour où il est témoin d'une scène mystérieuse dans la nécropole. Sa rencontre avec la châtelaine Thècle, qui attend sa mise à la question, finit de sceller son destin. Sa vie prend alors un tournant inattendu et la brillante carrière qui lui était promise débouche finalement sur un voyage plein de surprises.
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