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Shadow & Claw (The Book of the New Sun #1-2 )

4.06 of 5 stars 4.06  ·  rating details  ·  9,353 ratings  ·  598 reviews
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 brin ...more
Paperback, 413 pages
Published October 15th 1994 by Orb Books (first published 1994)
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Ender's Game by Orson Scott CardDune by Frank Herbert1984 by George OrwellFahrenheit 451 by Ray BradburyBrave New World by Aldous Huxley
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Community Reviews

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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
Dan 1.0
The Shadow of the Torturer: Apprentice torturer Severian shows mercy for an imprisoned woman and helps her commit suicide rather than endure weeks of torture. For his crimes, Severian is sentenced to travel too the village of Thrax and take up the post of carnifex. Will Severian make it to Thrax alive?

The Shadow of the Torturer isn't your grandmother's fantasy. The tale of Severian isn't the hopeful quest story that's been written and re-written umpteen times in the past fifty years. The setting
Update 5/26: finally finished. Man, this is an intense book. I was tempted to give up on it at various points because it's so thoroughly dick lit -- I mean, the hero carries around a sword that he unsheathes, oils, and re-sheaths routinely throughout his travels, and he sleeps with nearly every woman he encounters, but usually in the most patronizing way imaginable (there's actually an extremely painful, cringeworthy attempt at some sort of epiphanic look into the male psyche, wherein it is brou ...more
My first pass through Gene Wolfe's Shadow of the Torturer/Claw of the Conciliator was summed up with a status update I made about two-thirds of the way through:

Flashes of brilliance between swaths of tedium.

I did not dislike the book, and I expect to re-read it and enjoy it even more some day; but it did not strike me thus. Not on this first reading.

Aerin said it well:

Reading these books is like trying to watch a foreign movie without subtitles - from two miles away with a crappy set of binocula
Apr 18, 2008 Agnieszka rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Catholic science fiction fans
My three favorite novels in the world are Dune by Frank Herbert, The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco, and The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe. I bet that many of you have read, and many more have heard of, the first two, but I wonder how many have read the last. The Book of the New Sun is less accessible than The Name of the Rose and weirder than Dune. The mind-bending future world, where the sun is so close to dead that you can see the stars in the daytime, is on par with Dune in its richness ...more
Gene Wolfe is not a misgynist??!!

Before all the sensitive types start in on Gene Wolfe's treatment of women in Shadow and Claw, I thought I would head off such criticisms by exploring women's freedom in Wolfe's Urth.

On Urth, women are:

1. Permitted to learn to read. There are actually a number of women in the narrative that not only can read but also can read and understand something akin to Latin. But, don't you dare call it Latin, because it's not. Gene Wolfe said so.

2. Free to wear clothes or
I started into this series with trepidation—I wasn’t sure exactly how I would feel about a torturer as a main character. But Severian (get it, severe, sever) turns out to be charming in his own way—he is intelligent, empathetic, and friendly. Most of all, torture is just a job. He does it because it is he is a member of the guild, not because he has some psychopathic joy in the process. He does what needs to be done, follows the rules of his guild (except that one time that gets him into trouble ...more
Ross Lockhart
Forming the first half of Gene Wolfe’s dying earth tetralogy The Book of the New Sun, Shadow and Claw collects the series’ first two books, Shadow of the Torturer and Claw of the Conciliator. The conceit of the The Book of the New Sun is fairly unique, presenting itself as Gene Wolfe’s translation (also the case with Wolfe’s Latro in the Mist) of a memoir from the far future, forming a sort of bildungsroman of a torturer’s apprentice named Severian (which sounds so much like Severin from Leopold ...more
Gene Wolfe's The Book of the New Sun 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 en
Gene Wolfe, the poetically accented writer of intricate fantasy/science-fiction hybrids like this exquisite tetralogy, was inspired by that other pen-wielding magician Jack Vance's Tales of the Dying Earth : Wolfe's series also takes place on a radically altered Earth in the far, far future when the Sun's fuel is running dangerously low. Amidst the wreckage of past civilizations lies the sprawling, endless city of Wolfe's protagonist torturer-apprentice Severian. Beginning as a gauzy, haunting ...more

I've been reading bits and pieces of this book for month and it was only in the last couple of days that I gathered the energy to finish it all. Let me state the positives of this book succinctly: it starts off excellently, the language is just hard enough but not too hard and the worldbuilding is fascinating. However, considering this is rated just below The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit as one of the greatest fantasy-sci/fi works of all, I cannot quite see why. I believe that, perhaps, the
This is the book that I saved the five stars for. Because I have never read anything that compares to this (except the sequels), and probably never will.

Wolfe is in a class of his own. The writing, the imagination, the world, the events, the characters, everything is beyond anything I have ever encountered in literature. So many times was I left with total amazement at the vistas Wolfe reveals, or the events he portrays. Reading this is full of the purest sense of wonder, the joy of discovering
Gene Wolfe's four-volume Book of the New Sun must rank among the finest works of literature of the past quarter-century. SHADOW AND CLAW is an omnibus consisting of the first half, the volumes THE SHADOW OF THE TORTURER and THE CLAW OF THE CONCILIATOR.

The Book of the New Sun is shelved among science-fiction, but it is much more. Wolfe draws on Christianity, the works of J.L. Borges, medieval morality plays, and a thousand elements of "Spritus Mundi." It is essentially a Christian allegory, as "S
John Wiswell
Mar 16, 2011 John Wiswell rated it 2 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Fantasy readers, sci fi readers, readers who love heavy symbolism, fans of world building
This is a handy volume, with the first two books of the series together. That's especially useful to someone new to Gene Wolfe since the first book (Shadow of the Torturer) does very little to establish a plotline and ends extremely abruptly. Your curiousity for what happened after the end is sated by flipping over to the second book (Claw of the Conciliator), which does more with plotlines, though it is still a wildly tangential book. This is not a plot-hound's series. It's not even a particula ...more
I must say that when I picked up the book I was not expecting this. Assasin's guild sounds interesting, but it was the worst book I have ever read.
The world Gene Wolf created is great, but the characters...Bleck. Severian is just this random kid who falls in love with every single woman he sees; I though it was so stupid that I continued on with the story. Now, I don't know why I wasted my time.
What was with the greenhouse that took up most of the book? And the flower to fight people with, what
Certainly one of the most subtle and complex science-fantasy epics in the genre. The surface story is only one aspect of what the author is after; there are far deeper themes lurking below. And the narrator is far from reliable. One of the few series I've read twice, and the second time round I discovered many new things to appreciate about it. Highly recommended.
Mar 25, 2007 Chris added it
Shelves: abandoned
I just couldn't finish it, and I don't know why! I made it through Dhalgren, often declared the most unreadable sci-fi novel ever; I made it through every one of M. John Harrison's Viraconium books, even when it felt like I was slogging waist deep through a bog of words; and yet somehow I just couldn't stay interested in this meandering, surrealistic plot.
It has been suggested that The Book Of The New Sun series is too complex a work to evaluate on one reading. First of all, I don't necessarily believe that and secondly, I have a two kids, a full-time job and a band, and I'm also not the quickest reader. As it seems that I'll probably never get to read all the books I'd like to in my lifetime, one read-through is going to have to suffice, at least for now. I'd love to re-read it someday, though, and if any series deserves a re-read, it's this one ...more
The summer I turned 16, I flew from NW Montana (actually, Spokane, WA cos that's where the nearest airport was) to San Luis Obispo, CA to spend a few weeks with my then best friend.

My plane was delayed and I had no way to let her know because this was before kids my age had cell phones (y'know, except for Zack Morris), so she had been waiting at tiny SLO for my flight to arrive from LAX for hours. We wanted to get out of there immediately, so I grabbed my bag from the conveyor and we headed to t
This is a difficult book to review, partly due to the fact that the story is far from concluded at the end of this volume, but mainly because this is one of the most unusual fantasy books I have ever read.

This volume contains the first two parts of a quartet. At the end of each part, the author pauses, reminding the reader that they may wish to stop reading on at this point and that it is no easy road. Wolfe is right, it is no easy road but somehow I feel it is worth reading on.

The prose is poet
Jul 01, 2009 Henrik rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: anyone curious to read original science fantasy
Recommended to Henrik by: Christina Stind Rosendahl
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Joseph Michael Owens
4.5 stars -- Only a few small but somewhat significant details kept me from giving this book 5 stars.

. . .Wolfe keeps his story fresh by using terms that jar the reader in their alien appearance to describe everyday things — especially the names of the flora and fauna — though never so much that it alienates the reader. Smilodons, and other creatures that have or may have at one time lived on the reader’s own Earth inhabit Wolfe’s universe. He takes special care in keeping the reader guessing at
I can understand why people rave about this book, and I can see why people hate it, too. I thoroughly enjoyed most of it, though there were a few factors that churned my stomach a bit.

First the positive: This was a dense, intense, vividly written and imagined universe. It's Earth, a long time in the future, as we're approaching the death of the sun. A mythology has grown up around the dying sun, in fact, complete with prophecies of a New Sun that will herald the dawn of a newer and brighter era,
This book was the start of a catastrophic annihilation of my preconceptions of what a book can be, and what a story can represent, to myself as a reader and aspiring author. It simply shattered everything. Wolfe's "Solar Cycle" is the best story I have ever read.

He has set me on a mission to find its equal. It has catapulted me deep into the speculative fiction genre, exploring Gene's own illustrious influences. I have found favorite after favorite just reading the names he drops in his intervie
Jared Millet
I first started reading The Book of the New Sun almost fifteen years ago but never finished. Not because I didn't like it - I love these books beyond reason - but because I was reading it wrong. Usually I never read a series straight through; I take at least a year or so between books so not to get burned out on the author. You can't do that here. The New Sun cycle is really one big book broken up into publishable-sized chunks, but you've got to read the whole thing in one go. Otherwise you'll g ...more
Have now finished this first volume (two novels) in the New Sun series of Wolfe's-- great stuff! Well, you have to be someone who doesn't need to be catered to. I notice that with a lot of Wolfes' books those who don't like them complain about them being hard to get into, dragging, not going anywhere, that sort of thing-- but I think we can attribute this to different kinds of reading, the sort of which CS Lewis talks about in his Experiment in Criticism, if I remember correctly-- I believe it c ...more
“If we could have our way, no man would have to go roving or draw blood. But women did not make the world. All of you are torturers, one way or another.”

This book could be the first successful fantasy scifi novel I have come across. The tale centers around a young journeyman torturer, Severian, who falls from the good graces of his guild when he takes pity on a client. (view spoiler)
Science fiction and fantasy are literary genres that I doubt will ever rank among my favorites. However, I am always open to a stretch from my usual reading fare, so when a bookish colleague stated with impassioned conviction - "this is the best book I've ever read!" - I had to peer inside the covers of "Shadow & Claw".

Gene Wolfe is inarguably a highly skilled and richly talented author. I had already read Wolfe's "There Are Doors" and was decidedly underwhelmed. But this first half of a te
First off, I always seem to have to defend my choice of science fiction reads from the judgment of my friends, especially my wife. And then I always explain that the best science fiction is all about the satire or parable of current real life -- and this one does it in a way that I have not seen in SF in a long time. It is subtle. After reading far too many SF books that are so overly blatant in their imagery and so unimaginatively formulaic (Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, the Dark Tower, etc ...more
Aug 15, 2014 Jocelyn marked it as paused
Hmmm, I think it would be good to drop by and note Aerin's review. Definitely recommend taking a look, I think it's a pretty interesting one.

I've barely started this so far, but already I'm starting to see hints of a lot of what both fans and non-fans said (Severian's unreliable narration, Wolfe's occasionally incomprehensible style).

This analysis of Gene Wolfe is worth taking a look at as well:

As for my current opinion on Wolfe? I really don't know what to make
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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
More about Gene Wolfe...

Other Books in the Series

The Book of the New Sun (5 books)
  • The Shadow of the Torturer (The Book of the New Sun #1)
  • 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)
The Shadow of the Torturer (The Book of the New Sun #1) Sword and Citadel (The Book of the New Sun, #3-4) 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)

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“People don't want other people to be people.” 76 likes
“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.” 54 likes
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