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Shadow & claw by Gene Wolfe
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2,475332,475 (4.15)152
Member:Longshanks
Title:Shadow & claw
Authors:Gene Wolfe
Info:New York : ORB, [1994]
Collections:Your library
Rating:****1/2
Tags:science fiction, fantasy

Work details

Shadow & Claw: The First Half of The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe

  1. 20
    Lexicon Urthus by Michael Andre-Driussi (Cecrow)
    Cecrow: Companion piece serving as guide to interpreting Gene Wolfe's multi-layered work.
  2. 00
    Labyrinths by Jorge Luis Borges (LamontCranston)
    LamontCranston: "The composition of a novel in the first person, whose narrator would omit or disfigure the facts and indulge in various contradictions which would permit a few readers - very few readers - to perceive an atrocious or banal reality."
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Showing 1-5 of 31 (next | show all)
Gene Wolfe's [b:The Book of the New Sun|968868|The Book of the New Sun|Gene Wolfe|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1220729153s/968868.jpg|6965668] is one of the most revered severed series of all time. Neil Gaiman, Ursula Le Guin, GRRM and goodness knows what other celebs swear by them, not to mention armies of fans among sf readers everywhere. With this kind of adulation writing a review for the books is a risky undertaking. I mean you are fine if you love the books unconditionally and happy to declare yourself a convert, but what if you don't?

Fortunately for me I like the book (part 1 & 2) well enough to be able to show some appreciation of its merit, less fortunate is the fact that I don't actually love it.

"Shadow & Claw" is an omnibus volume comprised of the first two books of the 'The Book of the New Sun': Volume 1: [b:The Shadow of the Torturer|60211|The Shadow of the Torturer|Gene Wolfe|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1329650008s/60211.jpg|762497] and Volume 2: [b:The Claw of the Conciliator|463376|The Claw of the Conciliator|Gene Wolfe|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1332036282s/463376.jpg|2902933]. The series is often described as “a novel in four parts” so having read just parts 1 & 2 so far I can not claim to have read the entire book. In fact my attempt to review The Shadow of the Torturer after I finished it was a miserable failure because 25% of a book is too little to write about. Worse still, I first read “The Shadow of the Torturer” on audiobook and in that format most of it was incomprehensible for me, these books need to be read attentively and I can not do that while jogging. I always find printed books to be more intimate and easier to follow any way.

The first thing I noticed about Wolfe’s writing is the prose, it is florid, literate and complex, I often had to read sentences or whole passages twice to decipher their meaning. His writing is also often highly evocative, for example this particular sentence is till rattling around in my head:

“The hope in her voice now made me think of a flower growing in shadow.”

I have never seen a flower growing in shadow but the sentence conjured up a feeling of hopelessness very clearly for me.

Many reviews of this book mention that it demands multiple reading for full comprehension. Personally there is at least 15% of the book that I do not quite understand, perhaps after a few days of digesting it more details will fall into place. The author has a habit of suddenly going off on tangents that leave me floundering. There is a whole chapter describing a play put on by the characters that at the time of writing makes no sense to me.

The protagonist and narrator of the story Severian is not exactly likable as he seldom shows any emotion, even though his actions are often driven by his feelings. The female characters are all very well developed and I really feel for their plights, including the more villainous ones.

OK, that is the best I can do at this point (pathetic, I know), once I finish the remaining volumes I will try to add more substance to this review. This brings me to this passage from the end of the first and second volumes:

“Here I pause. If you wish to walk no farther with me, reader, I cannot blame you. It is no easy road.”


Definitely no easy road, but I’m game! ( )
  apatt | Dec 26, 2015 |
So this book is entirely problematic for me. Do I 'get it?'

No. It confuses the curl right out of my hair. I keep losing the plot thread. I can't figure out what all the invented words mean. I feel like I'm wandering through this quartet of books.

And yet... I made a trip to Powell's to pick up the second half of the series.

What magic is it that forces me to read on? I cannot say.

The world in the Book of the New Sun series is dark, scary, violent. Life is cheap. And yet, there is love and mystery here, too...

A lot of mystery. ( )
  ThePortPorts | Oct 13, 2014 |
Wow...

I'm barfing rainbows.

Very few books change the way you read, think, write.

Wow... ( )
  DanielAlgara | Sep 26, 2014 |
I am writing this review several weeks after I finished the book unfortunately. But hopefully I have not forgotten too much.

I can see very well why this book was rated so highly here in Goodreads. Wolfe's writing is lyrical and his imagination is great. However, after reading through the entire book, I just feel as if I am left floundering for direction on my own.

This book felt like a dream. We drift from scene to scene without any true understanding of how each segment began. We travel with the narrator from dank castles and torture chambers to timeless gardens and then end up at an enemy camp and then find ourselves wandering with different companions here and there. We always seem to know where we are going, like in dreams, but never seem to get anywhere no matter how long we travel. In the same vein, this is also how I feel about the supporting characters. People drift in and out of scenes and it always seems natural that we meet up again with old characters and that we lose an important traveling companion for a chapter or two. But when I stop and think, it is really quite strange. Meeting up again with Dr Talos and Baldanders, losing Dorcas for a bit, the reappearance of characters, seeing Thecla's sister, etc. It's so very odd, but for some odd reason as I was paging through the book, I don't question it.

I think it's the nature of Wolfe's writing. It is lyrical and beautiful and dreamy, though he does not flowery language. It's a combination of the way he makes the reader feel as if we are observing along with the narrator and the fantastical situations we watch. For example, the battle with the poisonous plants was particularly intriguing to me. It was different, it was strange, and it was written as if it were completely normal. Same with the gardens. Lovely piece of writing.

But this book frustrates me because I feel as if nothing has been concluded, that there seems to be no purpose in this book (like a dream, hey). I am just so annoyed because the title is called Shadow and Claw, and we don't even understand anything about the Claw. Obviously it's important, but why? What is it's mystery? But the main character doesn't even care about that. What is the battle about? What is so important in that little town he is travelling towards? What is the point of this book?
All Severian does is wander around from town to road to city and back to road, meeting people and seeing fantastical things. But does anything actually happen that is of significance? Sigh.

I also did roll my eyes at how Wolfe describes women and his apparent "love" for them, especially since that love only seemed to be composed of him catching sight of their bodies and falling in love with their appearance. No matter what the women do or say or act. Eh.
But I mostly just paged through those moments and kept going.

Thus, I feel as if I have to rate it 2.5 stars, rounding up to 3 stars. Although it was interesting to read, I would never ever read it again. And I highly doubt I will pick up the sequel, even to see how the story would end. My dreams never have a true ending either.
I don't think I would recommend this book to my friends though. It's a very niche sort of writing, in my opinion. I'm not sure what book I could compare this to. But perhaps that's why it is so highly lauded. ( )
1 vote NineLarks | Sep 15, 2014 |
I am writing this review several weeks after I finished the book unfortunately. But hopefully I have not forgotten too much.

I can see very well why this book was rated so highly here in Goodreads. Wolfe's writing is lyrical and his imagination is great. However, after reading through the entire book, I just feel as if I am left floundering for direction on my own.

This book felt like a dream. We drift from scene to scene without any true understanding of how each segment began. We travel with the narrator from dank castles and torture chambers to timeless gardens and then end up at an enemy camp and then find ourselves wandering with different companions here and there. We always seem to know where we are going, like in dreams, but never seem to get anywhere no matter how long we travel. In the same vein, this is also how I feel about the supporting characters. People drift in and out of scenes and it always seems natural that we meet up again with old characters and that we lose an important traveling companion for a chapter or two. But when I stop and think, it is really quite strange. Meeting up again with Dr Talos and Baldanders, losing Dorcas for a bit, the reappearance of characters, seeing Thecla's sister, etc. It's so very odd, but for some odd reason as I was paging through the book, I don't question it.

I think it's the nature of Wolfe's writing. It is lyrical and beautiful and dreamy, though he does not flowery language. It's a combination of the way he makes the reader feel as if we are observing along with the narrator and the fantastical situations we watch. For example, the battle with the poisonous plants was particularly intriguing to me. It was different, it was strange, and it was written as if it were completely normal. Same with the gardens. Lovely piece of writing.

But this book frustrates me because I feel as if nothing has been concluded, that there seems to be no purpose in this book (like a dream, hey). I am just so annoyed because the title is called Shadow and Claw, and we don't even understand anything about the Claw. Obviously it's important, but why? What is it's mystery? But the main character doesn't even care about that. What is the battle about? What is so important in that little town he is travelling towards? What is the point of this book?
All Severian does is wander around from town to road to city and back to road, meeting people and seeing fantastical things. But does anything actually happen that is of significance? Sigh.

I also did roll my eyes at how Wolfe describes women and his apparent "love" for them, especially since that love only seemed to be composed of him catching sight of their bodies and falling in love with their appearance. No matter what the women do or say or act. Eh.
But I mostly just paged through those moments and kept going.

Thus, I feel as if I have to rate it 2.5 stars, rounding up to 3 stars. Although it was interesting to read, I would never ever read it again. And I highly doubt I will pick up the sequel, even to see how the story would end. My dreams never have a true ending either.
I don't think I would recommend this book to my friends though. It's a very niche sort of writing, in my opinion. I'm not sure what book I could compare this to. But perhaps that's why it is so highly lauded. ( )
  NineLarks | Sep 15, 2014 |
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Epigraph
A thousand ages in thy sight
Are like an evening gone;
Short as the watch that ends the night
Before the rising sun.
Dedication
First words
It is possible I already had some presentiment of my future.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0312890176, Paperback)

One of the most acclaimed "science fantasies" ever, Gene Wolfe's The Book of the New Sun is a long, magical novel in four volumes. Shadow & Claw contains the first two: The Shadow of the Torturer and The Claw of the Conciliator, which respectively won the World Fantasy and Nebula Awards.

This is the first-person narrative of Severian, a lowly apprentice torturer blessed and cursed with a photographic memory, whose travels lead him through the marvels of far-future Urth, and who--as revealed near the beginning--eventually becomes his land's sole ruler or Autarch. On the surface it's a colorful story with all the classic ingredients: growing up, adventure, sex, betrayal, murder, exile, battle, monsters, and mysteries to be solved. (Only well into book 2 do we realize what saved Severian's life in chapter 1.) For lovers of literary allusions, they are plenty here: a Dickensian cemetery scene, a torture-engine from Kafka, a wonderful library out of Borges, and familiar fables changed by eons of retelling. Wolfe evokes a chilly sense of time's vastness, with an age-old, much-restored painting of a golden-visored "knight," really an astronaut standing on the moon, and an ancient citadel of metal towers, actually grounded spacecraft. Even the sun is senile and dying, and so Urth needs a new sun.

The Book of the New Sun is almost heartbreakingly good, full of riches and subtleties that improve with each rereading. It is Gene Wolfe's masterpiece. --David Langford, Amazon.co.uk

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:21:45 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

Received as a science fiction masterpiece. This volume contains the first 2 books in a 4 book series. The Shadow of the torturer and The claw of the Conciliator (Both NIS)

(summary from another edition)

» see all 2 descriptions

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