Ross Lockhart's Reviews > Shadow & Claw

Shadow & Claw by Gene Wolfe
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Jun 21, 2007

it was amazing
Read in July, 2007

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 von Sacher-Masoch’s Venus in Furs that I can’t help but wonder if the latter inspired Wolfe’s naming of the former), following his journey from youth to manhood (and beyond) over the course of a single summer. Wolfe’s literary language is sublime, choosing archaisms over neologisms to present a universe that, on the one hand, fits nicely into the “dying earth” subgenre of science fiction pioneered by Jack Vance, yet, on the other, is wholly original (though I did detect a nod to Walter M. Miller, Jr.’s A Canticle for Leibowitz in Severian’s descriptions of the monastic lives lived by those in his Guild of Torturers. Set pieces, including a to-the-death duel with giant (and deadly) flowers, a surprising mystery play performed by primary and secondary characters, and the against-genre-expectations (but character correct) use to which Severian first puts his sword, are satisfying, startling, and occasionally shocking. Great stuff. Come for the banquet, stay for the alzabo… and dessert.
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