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The Shadow of the Torturer (The Book of the New Sun #1)

3.8  ·  Rating Details ·  15,778 Ratings  ·  815 Reviews
The first volume of a masterpiece - Usula K. Le Guin

The Earth is old and the sun is dying. In the great Citadel of the City Imperishable, Severian, apprentice of the torturers' guild, betrays his oath. Exiled, Severian begins his phantasmagoric odyssey through the dark and perilous world of the deep, distant future.

A spectacular achievement - The Times

Totally original, new
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Mass Market Paperback, 303 pages
Published February 1st 1981 by Arrow Books Limited (first published 1980)
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Popular Answered Questions

Diego Davila Nah, you don't really have to worry about it. Although the two tetralogies obviously occur in the same universe, there is no plot crossover.

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Nah, you don't really have to worry about it. Although the two tetralogies obviously occur in the same universe, there is no plot crossover.

Nonetheless, I would highly recommend reading the Book of the New Sun. It is a singular series.(less)

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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J.G. Keely
Wolfe has an almost legendary status amongst fellow authors; Gaiman called him 'a ferocious intellect', Swanwick said he's "the greatest writer in the English language alive today", and Disch called this series "a tetralogy of couth, intelligence, and suavity".

You can rarely trust the popular market to single out good authors, but you'd think it might be safe to listen to the opinions of other writers (especially an assemblage of Nebula and Hugo winners in their own right). I will give his fans
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Markus
Oct 10, 2015 Markus rated it liked it
Shelves: fantasy, 2016
I have no idea what to say about this book. I don't even know what I thought of it.

I've heard that it's supposed to be difficult to read. I disagree.

I've heard that the writing is outstandingly beautiful. I disagree.

And so neither my positive nor my negative expectation was met. Moreover, the story was a mess, the main character was a mess and the setting was a mess. Somehow it was still good. The end.

Penny
I struggled through this book and spent most of it waiting for the end to redeem it. But then it had no end! It just stopped. If you've read any of my other reviews you may know that books that don't have proper endings are a major pet peeve of mine. I was extra annoyed this time because I'd been told that the beauty of this series lies in the twists and turns brilliantly laid out by Wolfe. I was sorely disappointed.

I found this book very difficult to read. I formed no attachment to the protagon
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Brad
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 extrapolatio
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Chris
Jul 22, 2012 Chris rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: masochists, literary snobs, Mievillites
I tried. Fuck it.

That was my original review, but not much to go on. Then again, if I took up 200 pages with flowery words of why this booked suck, I'd be doing the same thing the author of this piece of shit did.

The Torture of the Shadower:

Flowery prose? Yes. Gene Wolfe has it. He's a talented writer that can make a pretty sentence. I was often impressed with his word usage and some of the sentences were really enjoyable to read.

That said, you don't have to construct pretty sentences to impress
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Stephen
5.0 stars. Along with The Dying Earth by Jack Vance, the book that set the standard for the "science fantasy" epic. The Book of the New Sun Tetralogy is one of the great achievements in science fiction and is a MUST READ for fans of the genre. HIGHEST POSSIBLE RECOMMENDATION!!!

Winner: World Fantasy Award for Best Novel (1981)
Winner: Britsh Science Fiction Award for Best Novel (1982)
Nominee: Nebula Award for Best Science Fiction Novel (1981)
Nominee: John W. Campbell Award for Best Science Fictio
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Linda
Mar 16, 2016 Linda rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016
I had no idea what to expect from this book, but I wanted to read outside my normal comfort zone in order to broaden my horizons. (Thanks, John, for the suggestion!) Well, I must say that I was pleasantly surprised. I immediately connected with both the style of writing and how the narrator presents the story as reflecting back upon his life and the choices he made or did not make. I also loved the ancient feeling of this world, although it slowly dawned on me that this actually takes place way ...more
aPriL does feral sometimes
The title of this book really turned me away from reading this book for decades. However, it was selected as a club read so I decided to give it a try.

There are a few torture scenes and the violence is graphic but minimal. Overall, it is a pseudo-myth story, so the tone is dreamlike, and primarily a meditation on the pain of living as a human being rather than an adventure or coming-of-age story. The language is beautiful, poetic; however it's also a touch self-conscious. Whatever. The author d
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Vit Babenco
Apr 18, 2013 Vit Babenco rated it it was amazing
The Shadow of the Torturer is like a Preraphaelite canvas – the ancient perishing world, painted in unbelievably vivid colours, is washed in the sanguine rays of a long fatal sundown.
Only Gene Wolfe limns with words:
“The necropolis has never seemed a city of death to me; I know its purple roses (which other people think so hideous) shelter hundreds of small animals and birds. The executions I have seen performed and have performed myself so often are no more than a trade, a butchery of human bei
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Kat  Hooper
Aug 13, 2010 Kat Hooper rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobook
ORIGINALLY POSTED AT Fantasy Literature.

For those of you enjoy audiobooks, this is the perfect time to finally read (or to re-read) Gene Wolfe's The Shadow of the Torturer. Audible Frontiers recently put it on audio and the excellent Jonathan Davis is the reader.

The Shadow of the Torturer introduces Severian, an orphan who grew up in the torturer's guild. Severian is now sitting on a throne, but in this first installment of The Book of the New Sun, he tells us of key events in his boyhood and yo
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Mike (the Paladin)
Okay...what do I say about this book?

I read it first back in the '70s and found that I have very little memory of it. Possibly it was at a time when things were a bit stressful...the '70s were like that. Anyway, I decided to reread it.

The Shadow of the Torturer is a novel where we are dropped into the middle of a world and get to know it as we go, sort of like "on the job training". I won't give away details as..."what would be the point of learning things as you go" if I spill the beans? What I
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Jean-marcel
Apr 17, 2012 Jean-marcel rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm really drawn to decadent, crumbling civilisations in literature, especially those of the far distant future. Those who know my tastes know how much I love Jack Vance's "Dying Earth" books, set in a world where the days of the starfaring and ambitious aims of humanity have long dwindled away and in fact the sun itself has ceased to be the warming, welcome beacon it once was but has grown feeble and weak over millions of years. Let's ignore the fact that human life would probably have long exp ...more
Zach
May 02, 2010 Zach rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
After suffering through the verbal flagellation of The Name of the Wind, I was really jonesing for some literary fantasy, if such a thing existed. A friend at work (where people ought to know about such things) tipped me off to Gene Wolf and told me to start here.

Gene Wolfe is indeed a literary author: it's clear that significant thought was given to the characters, story arc, linguistic style, and thematic elements before he began writing this four-part story. It's a post-historic future-histor
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Robyn
Nov 15, 2014 Robyn rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016
3.5 for personal enjoyment, 4.5 for depth of writing and research. While constantly impressed with the references and allusions littered through the story and the resonance of the world Wolfe builds, the book in the end failed to engage my emotions alongside my brain.
Olivia
Oct 31, 2016 Olivia rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2016
I stumbled over Gene Wolfe and the Book of the New Sun via Neil Gaiman, who was praising it highly. I can definitely see why. The prose is beautiful. Gene Wolfe has a wonderful way with words. It's almost like reading poetry. Not much happens in this first of four books, but it was an easy read, immersive and beautiful. I connected with the narrator almost immediately and can't wait to find out what happens to Severian the Torturer.
Geoff Sebesta
Sep 23, 2012 Geoff Sebesta rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I think this was probably one of those books that was so revolutionary at the time that everybody spent thirty years ripping it off and now it seems less original than it really was.

Nevertheless, it's a crackin' good book. Wolfe is a rare stylist with the English language, and he has an ability to communicate difficult concepts that approaches genius. There is one part, early in the book, where the main character is looking at a faded old picture in a museum. Somehow Wolfe manages to convey, in
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Mark
Oct 17, 2009 Mark rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I have very strong memories of this book. I picked it more or less at random years and years ago when I used to have the time to wander aimlessly through a bookstore and explore new titles and authors. The chronicles of Severian (there are four books in this series, I think) were so unlike any kind of fantasy book I'd read that I was really haunted by them, especially the first book. There are images in it, scenes, that actually live up to that word that is so overused now: "surreal." The settin ...more
Ryan Mishap
Dec 17, 2008 Ryan Mishap rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: garbage
Okay, like many an SF book, this plunges us into a nebulous world not wholly rendered--in a grave yard no less. Now that's a good start: the protagonist encounters rebels in the graveyard robbin' bones and then goes back to his guild. The Torturer's Guild, mind. From here, the book drags like a fucking stone weight around your brain as our would be torturer becomes obssessed with a captive and eventually leaves to find some other destiny. I got to the end after hundreds of pages and realized not ...more
Sarah Anne
What fascinated me most about this was the overall tone of the narration. It was sorrowful and introspective and I loved that. I did feel that Sevarian was a bit too trusting of every single person he met! My only real complaint is that there are hints that he's writing this from someplace and for some reason but we're given no information on that. I'm sure we'll hear about it later but I would have appreciated a bit more info.
Nick (Book-Absorbed Reviews)
There are certain books that can be considered life-changing experiences. Gene Wolfe is an author who has written one of those for me. The Shadow of the Torturer may very well be my favorite fantasy book of all-time if you pinned me down and forced me to give you an answer. I first read it in my early twenties, and recently picked it up again because I wanted to visit the world of Urth again. In many ways, The Shadow of the Torturer has everything that I look for in a great read: awesome world-b ...more
Nick Tramdack
Mar 10, 2011 Nick Tramdack rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Check out these money quotes from the best fantasy novel of the 1980s. Severian, a torturer exiled for the crime of showing mercy, gets involved in a crypto-catholic quest to restart the dying sun.

"I know little of literary style; but I have learned as I have progressed, and find this art not so much different from my old one as might be thought." ... this begins an even better passage, maybe the best passage, where Severian compares the art of writing to his torturer skills.

"Dr. Talos leaned to
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Xara Niouraki
Apr 13, 2013 Xara Niouraki rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I finally decided to drop this series. If I need to learn new, difficult words that I'll never use in a sentence, I'll buy a dictionary. It will be more interesting.
Mark
Jun 09, 2011 Mark rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: EVERYONE
Shelves: sciencefiction
This is pretty much science fiction at its most literate. I had read the New Sun series before (about 20 years ago) and I had forgotten most of the details, and was not as mature or discerning as I am now. I decided to revisit the series, using a potential Goodreads reviews as the excuse for my re-reading.

"The Shadow of the Torturer" is the first book in a four book series called "The Book of the New Sun" by Gene Wolfe. The book is of a science fiction subgenre called "Dying Earth" after the nov
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Kaitlin
Oct 09, 2014 Kaitlin rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Wow... this book took me a VERY long time to plod my way slowly through and it was certainly not an easy read. This is regarded by many great writers and readers to be a fantastic SF book and the basis for a lot of modern interpretations and influences in the genre, for me, it was a bit of a messy and convoluted story regarding a torturer who wouldn't stop rambling.

Whilst I can certainly appreciate aspects of this writing, for example Gene has a wonderfully lyrical prose which makes Death sound
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Korynn
Jun 23, 2007 Korynn rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sci-fifantasy
A strangely unemotional narrator who seems to sleepwalk through events, Severian is by training meant to be unemotional. His love for his captive, Thecla seems to mark his doom, forcing him to leave the only life he has known or understood. Random events are introduced, to give a sense of realism, rather like a diary entry...they do not reappear. The environment is lush, well-described, as much a character in the story as the narrator. Characters appear, motives are subscribed, foolish things oc ...more
Skyeofskynet
Oct 19, 2014 Skyeofskynet rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I can't remember the last time I read something so boring, and I took three years of the history of polish literature, which was usually just barely interesting.
Ranting Dragon
Mar 29, 2011 Ranting Dragon rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: michael
http://www.rantingdragon.com/the-shad...


The Shadow of the Torturer is the first installment of The Book of the New Sun series by Gene Wolfe. It won the World Fantasy Award in 1981 and was nominated for several other awards, including the Nebula, and is an unchallenged classic from one of the genre’s most awarded authors.

Severian is the book’s narrator and the torturer in the title. He has been raised in the Guild of Torturers, whose members unquestioningly perform their duties for the Autarch. A
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Angela
Dec 25, 2009 Angela rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: science fiction/fantasy readers
Recommended to Angela by: a fellow science fiction fan
This is an incredible imagining of a far future Earth in a time when the sun is starting to fail and civilization is in decline. The world in the New Sun series so far in the future as to be unrecognizable, with people who have forgotten how to manage technology that once took them to the stars coexisting on an Earth inhabited by exotic life forms from other worlds. Wolfe did a brilliant job creating this distant future. He has definitely earned all the comparisons to Tolkien with his fantastic ...more
John
Mar 08, 2016 John rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Occasionally I read a book that I know is worthy of five stars, but I give it four because it just did not engage me personally. Once in a while, I also find a book that's the opposite; Shadow of the Torturer is one of those. Objectively it's probably a four-star book, but man I had fun pondering its mysteries. If I finish the series unsatisfied, I'll probably come back and knock a star off. Otherwise, this one gets graded on a slight curve.

Also, Wolfe sure can write pretty.
Jacob
Oct 29, 2013 Jacob rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fantasy
Absolutely amazing. I read this as a child and wasn't able to appreciate it or retain much knowledge of it. Now reading it as an adult I can understand why. This book is dense with subject matter. You can't skim and get the full experience. The philosophy discussed is rich, the world building is spectacular, the characters realistic and alive, and the story is engaging. I'm in awe of the author's ability.
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
  • The Dying Earth (The Dying Earth, #1)
  • On Wings of Song
  • The Persistence of Vision
  • Stations of the Tide
  • The Year of the Quiet Sun
  • The Pastel City
  • The Etched City
  • The Embedding
  • Juniper Time
  • Fourth Mansions
  • Orbitsville
  • Physiognomy
  • No Enemy But Time
  • The Variable Man and Other Stories
  • Thraxas (Thraxas, #1-2)
  • Jack of Shadows
  • Engine Summer
  • Nifft the Lean
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Gene Wolfe is an American science fiction and fantasy writer. He is noted for his dense, allusive prose as well as the strong influence of his Catholic faith, to which he converted after marrying a Catholic. He is a prolific short story writer and a novelist, and has won many awards in the field.

The Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master Award is given by SFWA for ‘lifetime achievement in science fict
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More about Gene Wolfe...

Other Books in the Series

The Book of the New Sun (5 books)
  • The Claw of the Conciliator (The Book of the New Sun #2)
  • The Sword of the Lictor (The Book of the New Sun #3)
  • The Citadel of the Autarch (The Book of the New Sun #4)
  • The Urth of the New Sun (The Book of the New Sun, #5)

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“...I rejoiced in the flaws that made her more real to me” 15 likes
“Men are said to desire women, Severian. Why do they despise the women they obtain?” 11 likes
More quotes…