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

3.83 of 5 stars 3.83  ·  rating details  ·  8,926 ratings  ·  444 reviews
The Shadow of the Torturer is the first volume in the four-volume series, The Book of the New Sun. It 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 -- and follows subsequent journey out of his home city of Nessus.
Paperback, 211 pages
Published June 3rd 1984 by Pocket (first published 1980)
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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
Best Science Fiction & Fantasy Books
86th out of 3,757 books — 14,693 voters
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna ClarkePerfume by Patrick SüskindLittle, Big by John CrowleyThe Shadow of the Torturer by Gene WolfeKafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
World Fantasy Award Winners
4th out of 44 books — 200 voters

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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...more
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...more
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...more
4.5 Stars

I've read dense, challenging styles of writing many times but Gene Wolfe is the first to make me feel like an idiot. His prose had me often rereading many bits of his story, oftentimes missing the story's most important sequences. His prose, though complex and thick, is intriguing, not tedious. Truly grasping the story as well as the concept feels like an accomplishment, and an enlightening one as well. His ideas are so well-drawn that he completely avoids tedium even with such a Byzant...more
And for the first time, I find myself so indecisive that the rating has been reduced to zero stars. Given how divisive this book is among its readers, it's probably more helpful to relay the reading experience and let you come up with your own preconceptions.

The strange thing about The Shadow of the Torturer is that I've forgotten much of what's happened even just shortly after finishing it. Reading Gene Wolfe bears a strong resemblance to me as floating through a dream, with occasional flashes...more
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
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...more
Geoff Sebesta
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...more
Kat  Hooper
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...more
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
Apr 16, 2013 Chris rated it 1 of 5 stars 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...more
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
Ryan Mishap
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
Nick Tramdack
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...more
Dec 25, 2009 Angela rated it 5 of 5 stars 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
Ranting Dragon

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...more
James Dixon
I'd never really bothered with the whole magic-and-swords genre before, but after trying the Sci-Fi/Fantasy equivalent of "The Gateway Drug" (Game of Thrones), I figured I'd experiment a bit more, and over the course of a week-or-so, I happened to come across a few references to Gene Wolfe (from fairly different sources) so I ended up choosing this!

Anyways, turns out that this was quite the stroke of luck!

To be honest, it's quite hard for me to actually say why I really liked this, but I did. (...more
Seth Brown
A friend recommended this book to me, explaining it was about a torturer with a really cool sword. I had no idea of what this book was going to unfold into, the magnitude and grandeur it contained. I always enjoy a story that starts small and grows into something larger than one would think possible - when done well, and Gene Wolfe does it REALLY well.

The grammatical styling that Wolfe uses to write the whole series is amazing. He created words that never had an explanation, nothing equating it...more
Sep 09, 2007 Tracey rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition Recommends it for: fantasy spec fic with an imperfect protagonist
found all 4 parts of The Book of the New Sun at a used book store after seeing it listed on the Top 50 SF & Fantasy books as listed by the Science Fiction Book Club. I'd never heard of Gene Wolfe & thought I'd give him a try. An online friend said she'd just started this book early last week, so I thought I'd join her in the reading.

We follow the story of Severin, as he recounts his history, beginning as an apprentice torturer. Severin is by turns incredibly naive and extremely ambitious...more
Jul 03, 2011 Mark rated it 5 of 5 stars 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...more
The best way to approach this book is first with an appreciation of Wolfe's style of writing. It is an acquired taste and not for the casual read, but in the end I believe it well worth the effort.

The plot does not readily present itself but is layered under character developments and world building. The pace is slow and steady like a relaxing Sunday drive. So far my impression is that all characters seem flawed in some way, either of their own choice or from circumstance. This makes them a caut...more
Xara Niouraki
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.
5 Stars

This series comes highly recommended and I can see why… It is incredibly well written, fleshed out, and it brings together all that makes the fantasy genre my true favorite. I will review it in detail later on but summarize my feelings now.

Gene Wolfe writes at a very high level. His command upon the English language puts him among the elite crowd with China Mieville and others. He has put together a novel that is technically near perfection. It is paced wonderfully with lots of time spent...more
Mur Lafferty
I honestly don't think you can review this without reading all four books, as Wolfe holds certain facts back (I've been spoiled on some things) that are revealed later. Especially since the book doesn't so much end as stop.

People criticize Neal Stephenson as ending books abruptly, no, THIS book ends abruptly, in the middle of a physical altercation.

I'm finding reading the book on an academic level- ie, trying to see what I can learn from it and trying to figure out Wolfe's puzzles- is easier th...more
Jun 13, 2009 Willa rated it 3 of 5 stars
Shelves: 2009
I'm not really into books with the word "torturer" in the title, but my oldest son is reading this New Sun series because he heard it was by a Catholic and contained some interesting philosophy and linguistics (examples I've come across so far: "nenuphar", "badelaire"). It's well written and apparently was one of those pivotal series in fantastic fiction. I am very squeamish and found even the atmosphere of the torturer's guild hard to take. However, the details are not a front-and-center part o...more
Kate Sherrod
A few friends are joining me in reading THE BOOK OF THE NEW SUN in November. This will be a fifth or sixth read for me, but a new read for most of my friends. Anyone who wants to join in is more than welcome (Alastair Reynolds told me he might, so HEY!). Not doing it as formally as we did Puttin' the Blog in Balrog but will be blogging the hell out of these books.

Blogs to watch include Kate of Mind and Snobbery

And if my friends like this first series, they might just join me in examining the who...more
I adored the parts in the torturer's guild, but now Severian is out in the world I'm finding it a bit unfocussed. The world is beautifully rendered and the prose is gorgeous, but I'm half way through and I'd like a hint of a plot by now.

I finished this and The Claw of the Conciliator and am not going to read any more. Beautiful worldbuilding but the protagonist is a dick and there's still no plot.
All of my friends who have rated this have rated it either 5 stars or 1 star, so I was curious which side of the divide I would fall on. I gave it about 100 pages before giving up, but just couldn't get into it. There's lyrical language, and then there's overblown language, and I'd have to say this is the latter. Not my cup of tea.
I'm really not sure what happened here. I like to think of myself as moderately well read, and certainly quite familiar with the essential works in my genres of choice...but both this book and this author were totally off my radar. I'd not really had any knowledge of this series until there was a mention of it in the introduction to the new collected Viriconium I picked up last year; and then an editor I trust made a passing mention in a blog post last month that compared it to a cross between J...more
Ulrich Krieghund
I wanted to give this four stars, however Wolfe did not succeed in a basic storyteller's area--empathy for the main character. If some black knight had run Severian through with a lance halfway through the tale, I would not have lamented his death. Most others will disagree as to the quality of Shadow of the Torturer. I only discovered it after perusing a list of the best fantasy/science fiction novels on a site that featured some high quality choices. This is the first book by Gene Wolfe which...more
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  • The Dying Earth
  • On Wings of Song
  • Stations of the Tide
  • The Pastel City
  • The Embedding
  • No Enemy but Time
  • Persistence of Vision
  • Lord of Light
  • Physiognomy
  • Sailing to Byzantium
  • Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang
  • The Year of the Quiet Sun
  • The Dragon Waiting
  • Only Begotten Daughter
  • Drowning Towers
  • Our Lady Of Darkness
  • Helliconia Spring (Helliconia, #1)
  • Pavane
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
More about Gene Wolfe...
Shadow and Claw (The Book of the New Sun, #1-2) 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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“Men are said to desire women, Severian. Why do they despise the women they obtain?” 8 likes
“Tous, nous aimons ce que nous détruisons.” 8 likes
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