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Shadow & Claw

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

4.02  ·  Rating details ·  16,521 ratings  ·  1,120 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)
Philip Magnier Yes, the five books bring the journey of Severian to an end and he changes with all his adventures and trials. He does gain in profoundity and wisdom.

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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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
Jessica ❁ ➳ Silverbow ➳ ❁
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 . ...more
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. The m ...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 enough
Nick 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
David M
That we are capable only of being what we are remains our unforgivable sin.

RIP Gene Wolfe, 1931 - 2019. On hearing news of his death earlier this month, I felt inspired to pick up his masterpiece again, even though it had been less than half a year since I read it the first time.

I can now confirm what Neil Gaiman and everyone else in the know says about the late Mr Wolfe: his books yield greater mysteries and wonders on being reread.

Book of the New Sun has one of the most haunting openings in l
Dec 13, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Utterly intense, dreamlike, amoral, and mystical. With some of the most beautiful prose ever written in the genre.
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
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, hauntin ...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.
Dec 03, 2016 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
DNF at page 291

After a lot of torturing ourselves, my reading partner and I agreed to just DNF this. In the beginning, the book was kept afloat by curious hints at really interesting world-building, interest in seeing how we arrive at the frame narrative that is also hinted at, and the author having some moments of literary writing that balanced out the moments of painfully cliched or awkward prose.

For a very long time, we were willing to forgive a lot and make excuses for everything from the l
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... ...more
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
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 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
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
Xantha Page
Reread. Raised to 5 stars (originally 4). I remember liking this when I first read it several years back but not like this. This book is good. Insanely good. Best-of-genre-tier good. Halfway through and I feel like I'm navigating a labyrinth that on my first visit I thought was an odd, crooked, but nicely decorated hallway. The first time was entertaining, but this time is dazzling....

I'll hold off on saying anything more specific until I'm finished.
Dec 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: rtc, science-fiction
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
Dec 30, 2018 rated it it was ok
If slow-burn misogynism peaking in an off-hand, unexamined rape sounds like your idea of great SF, this here's the novel for you. That's probably all I have to say for most people.

If that sounds like something you can stomach in a book with a ton of other stuff, it might still be the book for you, but probably not. First, the prose. It's florid, densely florid, and run though with vocabulary that seems annoyingly arbitrary at first, then sort of rational if you read the afterword, then annoying
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Sci-fi and Heroic...: Shadow & Claw by Gene Wolfe 46 87 Jun 16, 2017 10:24AM  
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Gene Wolfe was an American science fiction and fantasy writer. He was 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 was 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 f

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)

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