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Shadow & Claw

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

4.03  ·  Rating details ·  14,218 ratings  ·  925 reviews
The Shadow of the Torturer 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.

The Claw of the Conciliator continues the saga of Severian, banished from his home, as he undertakes a mythic quest to discover the awesome power of an ancient
Paperback, 413 pages
Published October 15th 1994 by Orb Books
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Andronikos I found the Claw gripped me for longer than the Shadow, especially once you get to the House Azure. I will admit the play frustrated me; I had to take…moreI found the Claw gripped me for longer than the Shadow, especially once you get to the House Azure. I will admit the play frustrated me; I had to take out my machete and just hack right through the thing, but the payoff in Sword of the Lictor and Citadel of the Autarch is worth it. That section's a bit more like a puzzle of foreshadowing for the rest of the series; while it interrupts the narrative, reading it closely should give you some cool reveals down the line. Unfortunately, I'm afraid I didn't quite read it closely enough, and instead managed with some other peoples' explanation of it.

In any case, while it's not the most exciting portion of the book, I found the House Azure and the surrounding plotlines sufficiently fascinating to remember Claw fondly.


Woops. This is a year old. Sorry. (less)

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J.G. Keely
Sep 24, 2007 rated it it was ok
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 Schwent
Feb 06, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fantasy, sf, 2011
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
Apr 17, 2008 rated it liked it
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
Jan 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: sci-fi
Fantastic Conjunctivitis

Wolfe is most often compared to Tolkien and Lewis. However this is regurgitation of marketing hype. There is little in terms of style or symbology to link Wolfe with either. Aside from the genre of fantasy and a clear talent for creative world-building, Wolfe dwells in a very different universe, a universe not all that dissimilar from Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast trilogy.

The physical environment of Wolfe's city of Nessus could easily fit into Peake's Gormenghast Castle and
Dec 21, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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
May 28, 2011 rated it did not like it
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
Nov 07, 2010 rated it it was ok
----- update 12/2/2015 -----

On this, my first re-reading, I'm stopping with Shadow of the Torturer in a "for now" kind of moment. There are some other things I'd like to read as 2015 winds down. Not sure if I enjoyed the story more or about the same this time around. Certainly not less.

----- original review -----

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 betw
Mar 26, 2016 rated it liked it
I stopped after The Shadow of the Torturer.

It was ok, and I fully grasp the idea that a reader should be doing a lot of the work when reading a book. But not this much work.
Jessica ❁ ➳ Silverbow ➳ ❁ Rabid Reads-no-more
MUST read at first available opportunity, b/c Servo is an ode to one of Pierce Brown's favorite characters in literature, Severian the Torturer .
Jan 17, 2015 rated it it was amazing
The book’s cover offers a blurb from Neil Gaiman: "The best SF novel of the last century."

Yeah, okay Neil, I thought to myself. I bet you say that to all the pretty books.

Then I read the book. And he was right. At least, right if you define "best" as "none better" rather than "better than all." Book of the New Sun belongs in a class of its own. If there's anything to compare it with, I haven't read it.

With this quartet, Gene Wolfe did for speculative literature what Raymond Chandler did to detec
Ross Lockhart
Jun 21, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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
Christopher Paolini
Mar 21, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: recommended
I just finished reading Shadow & Claw, the first half of The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe. It is, without a doubt, one of the most impressive sci-fi/fantasy books I’ve ever read. The prose is gorgeous: a unique and wonderful mixture of language that employs all sorts of ancient and otherwise unused words to evoke a far different time and place. I’m not done with the series yet, so I’m not sure how it’s going to end, but so far, I’ve found the story dark and mysterious and enthralling. T ...more
Mar 18, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Nick T. Borrelli
Mar 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
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
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
Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽
Brilliant but also crazy difficult to unpack, and truly tedious for me for long stretches.

*sigh* Maybe I'll give it another shot one of these times, now that I'm (definitely) older and (hopefully) wiser.
Nov 13, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
Jun 10, 2008 rated it did not like it
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
David M
Somewhere among the swirling worlds I am so soon to explore, there lives a race like and yet unlike the human. They are no taller than we. Their bodies are like ours save they are perfect, and that the standard to which they adhere is wholly alien to us. Like us, they have eyes, a nose, a mouth; but they use these features (which are, as I have said, perfect) to express emotions we have never felt , so that for us to see their faces is to look upon some ancient and terrible alphabet of feeling,
Jul 25, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Anyone
If Peake's Titus Alone(after being rewritten by Lovecraft and Borges) was narrated by the crazy guy from Nabokov's Pale Fire it would only hint at the joys of this book...
Oct 15, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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
Dec 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science-fiction, rtc
Full review to once I finish the story in total (for you see the Book of the New Sun is really four separate books that have been consolidated between two covers). I do really like the fantastical far flung future Wolfe has created (reminded me a bit of the weirdness of Nightland). I DNFed this book about a decade ago but I am glad I cam back to it. I feel like I am a more mature reader now and can better appreciate the literary aspects of this book. Overall enjoyable but this installment is som ...more
Jonathan Terrington

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
John Wiswell
Jun 25, 2007 rated it it was ok
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
Feb 11, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: november-2015, sf
Sen sen atpakaļ es nolēmu kļūt mazliet gudrāks un izlasīju grāmatu par fantastikas un fantāzijas žanra kritiku. Tā bija visgudru kritiķu darbu apkopojums, kurš lasītājam dotu teorētisku un stabilu pamatu darbu interpretācijai. Izrādījās, ka esmu gudrāks nekā pats biju domājis, lai gan tik smuki savas domas par grāmatām es nekad nespēšu uzrakstīt. Tur tad arī izlasīju, ja cilvēks nav izlasījis šī autora šo darbu, tad viņu nemaz par īstu fantastikas cienītāju nemaz nevar uzskatīt, kur nu vēl kriti ...more
The Book of the New Sun: SFF’s greatest and most challenging epic
Originally posted at Fantasy Literature
THE BOOK OF THE NEW SUN is considered by many SFF readers as the greatest, most challenging, and most rewarding SF-fantasy epic ever written in the genre. At the same time, its baroque language, ambiguous plot, unreliable narrator, and depth of symbolism are likely to discourage most casual readers. Therefore, new readers need to dedicate themselves to unraveling the many layers of plot, reli
Feb 26, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: sci-fi
If you like the Wizard of Earthsea books you might like these. I enjoyed both novels (The Book of the New Sun #1-2) for what they are but I didn't love them. I felt they lacked adventure because the pace was slow and monotonous. I don't mean to say "if you love boring stuff--this is for you!" Personally, I just need some action. The "let's develop a philosophical psyche monologue of a torturer's life and then learn from it internally while walking" isn't my cup of soda. Don't get me wrong, I lov ...more
Nov 03, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Jun 17, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: sciencefiction
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,
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Sci-fi and Heroic...: Shadow & Claw by Gene Wolfe 46 73 Jun 16, 2017 10:24AM  
Goodreads Librari...: Please correct page count - 9781429966276 3 15 Jun 16, 2016 10:37AM  
  • Tales of the Dying Earth
  • Viriconium
  • Black Gods and Scarlet Dreams
  • Lexicon Urthus: A Dictionary for the Urth Cycle
  • Sea-Kings of Mars and Otherworldly Stories
  • The History of the Runestaff
  • The Iron Dragon's Daughter
  • Engine Summer
  • Mistress of Mistresses
  • Stories of Your Life and Others
  • Aye, and Gomorrah: And Other Stories
  • Songs of the Dying Earth: Stories in Honour of Jack Vance
  • The Conan Chronicles: Volume 1: The People of the Black Circle (The Conan Chronicles, #1)
  • Shriek: An Afterword (Ambergris, #2)
  • Ill Met in Lankhmar (Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser #1-2)
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

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)
“People don't want other people to be people.” 116 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.” 80 likes
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