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The Book of the New Sun #2

The Claw of the Conciliator

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Severian is in possession of a gem considered to be "The Claw of the Conciliator", a powerful relic of the Master of Power, a legendary figure of mythic proportions. Armed with his sword, Terminus Est, and the Claw, Severian continues his journey to Thrax, the city of his exile. Bizarre apes, strange cannibalistic rituals, and the foreigner named Jonas all lie in his future.

303 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1981

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About the author

Gene Wolfe

475 books2,880 followers
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 fiction and/or fantasy.’ Wolfe joins the Grand Master ranks alongside such legends as Connie Willis, Michael Moorcock, Anne McCaffrey, Robert Silverberg, Ursula K. Le Guin, Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury and Joe Haldeman. The award will be presented at the 48th Annual Nebula Awards Weekend in San Jose, CA, May 16-19, 2013.

While attending Texas A&M University Wolfe published his first speculative fiction in The Commentator, a student literary journal. Wolfe dropped out during his junior year, and was drafted to fight in the Korean War. After returning to the United States he earned a degree from the University of Houston and became an industrial engineer. He edited the journal Plant Engineering for many years before retiring to write full-time, but his most famous professional engineering achievement is a contribution to the machine used to make Pringles potato crisps. He lived in Barrington, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago.

A frequent Hugo nominee without a win, Wolfe has nevertheless picked up several Nebula and Locus Awards, among others, including the World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement and the 2012 Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master Award. He is also a member of the Science Fiction Hall of Fame.


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Displaying 1 - 30 of 647 reviews
Profile Image for Lyn.
1,852 reviews16.4k followers
April 8, 2021
In 1984 I went to the theater to see the David Lynch film Dune. It was a weird movie, but I liked it and went to the library to check out Frank Herbert’s book. I could not read it, my 15-year-old brain could not pick up what Frank was throwing down.

About a year or so later, I watched the movie again (rented the VHS at the video store) and again tried to read the book but again to no avail. I knew I liked the story, knew there was something there I liked a lot, just could not wrap my mind around the language.

Another year goes by and I try it again and the third time was a charm; I was enthralled. Since then I’ve read all of Frank’s original six and many of the follow up books and Dune is one of my all time favorite books.

In 2017 I read Gene Wolfe’s The Shadow of the Torturer, his first of four in the Book of the New Sun. I liked it but did not love it as I thought I would, just couldn’t quite connect. But his wonderful writing style and imagination stuck with me and I knew I would return to that world building. A friend’s comment made me think of it again and so I bought the second book …

And I get it! WOW! Wolfe is an amazing writer, and I am mesmerized by his world building. Reminiscent of Ursula LeGuin and Jack Vance, this is also like Herbert’s writing in its intricate detail and complex design. Set, like Vance’s work, in a distant future, this is a blend of science fiction and fantasy that also makes me think of Silverberg’s Majipoor books. I can also see how Patrick Rothfuss was inspired by this work.

But it is Wolfe’s writing that draws the reader in, the language he uses and the tones he sets are, using subtle nuances with unique words, makes this complicated and sometimes difficult to follow, but ultimately very enjoyable. This is not light reading, Wolfe asks much of his readers, but for a discerning follower, this is well worth it.

Beginning just after the end of the first book, this follows Severian’s journeys. The second book has more action, more detail, and looking back I can see that the first book was providing detail and backstory for the full four book tetralogy. Severian develops his skills and has more adventures, but Wolfe leads us into many still unanswered mysteries.

On to the third book!

*** 2021 reread

Wait ... what? Didn't you just read this (checks notes) last month?

Yes, dear reader, I did. I read books two, three and four, went back to reread book one, and then just started all over again. These four books are really one story and need to be read together.

This tetralogy has quickly become one of my favorite SFF stories and Wolfe one of my favorite writers. I've read lots of books and this is one of the finest fantasy books of all time.

Severian has left Nessus with his new friend Jonas, who turns out to be very different from what we first expect, perhaps an allusion to the Wandering Jew mythos.

Every chapter, every sentence, every word of Wolfe's narration can have multiple meanings. There is the surface story, then there are hints and references to something else - much symbolism, allusion and invitations to look more closely and to examine and re-examine what was said and done.

Severian also meets the green man, from the future or from another world. The setting is in a far distant future where the great explorations and colonizations we usually see in SF is eons on the past here and the glory of technology is a mostly forgotten memory, though magic like technology remains.

The journeyman torturer is put to work in the execution of Morwena in a scene that stayed with me in its poignancy and brutality. Here is an executioner who does his duty with skill and proficiency and in so doing actually shows mercy to the victim.

We also see the iconic meeting with the H. G. Wells inspired apemen, more mystery with the Claw of the Concilliator and a Cthulhu reference.

Again we see a play within a play and in Dr. Talos' theater I am reminded of the scene from the 1987 film Moonstruck starring Cher where Olympia Dukakis' character asked Danny Aiello why men chase woman and he gives her the answer she has been looking for - fear of death. Severian is not only death incarnate as a headsman, but also quite the lothario who seems to fall in love with every woman he meets.

All this and more in Wolfe's inimitable writing and imagination. This may be an annual re-read, absolutely amazing.

Profile Image for Vit Babenco.
1,399 reviews3,278 followers
February 6, 2021
“And the colours of the sea bind your eyes with trembling mermaids, and you touch the distant beaches with tales of brave Ulysses, how his naked ears were tortured by the sirens sweetly singing, for the sparkling waves are calling you to kiss their white laced lips.” CreamTales of Brave Ulysses.
Yes, Severian is a hero like ancient Ulysses astray somewhere in the ocean of the future and the distant sirens are singing to him their sweet deadly songs calling him to the great unknown.
And Severian possesses now a powerful and enigmatic artifact: The Claw of the Conciliator
And Conciliator is a stellar legend…
The story goes that he once took a dying woman by the hand and a star by the other, and from that time forward he had the power to reconcile the universe with humanity, and humanity with the universe, ending the old breach. He had a way of vanishing, then reappearing when everyone thought he was dead – reappearing sometimes after he had been buried. He might be encountered as an animal, speaking the human tongue, and he appeared to some pious woman or other in the form of roses.

And this lodestar leads Severian on…
One’s place in the sun – is it at the end of the rainbow?
Profile Image for Kat  Hooper.
1,582 reviews396 followers
September 14, 2010
ORIGINALLY POSTED AT Fantasy Literature.

The Claw of the Conciliator is the second book in Gene Wolfe’s The Book of the New Sun quartet. If you read The Shadow of the Torturer and felt like you were lost (or drunk), and weren’t sure whether things would get clearer in the second book, I have to tell you that no, they don’t. But if you, like me, enjoy that dreamy I’m-not-sure-where-I-am-or-how-I-got-here-or-where-I’m-going-but-everything-sure-feels-fine literary experience, then read on, because Severian’s head is a strange and fascinating place to be.

The Book of the New Sun is one of those works that some people think is ingenious and others suspect is just drivel. This is not the series for a reader who wants a quick-paced action-filled story with a concrete beginning, middle and end. This is for someone who’s in the mood to be open-minded and has the time and patience for some experimentation with character, setting, and theme. (And, perhaps, some mind-altering drugs might help.)

You don’t need to worry about all of the religious imagery to enjoy these novels, but it’s there if you want to look for it. Most obvious are the themes of healing and resurrection and the allusions to the Second Coming, and it’s clear that Severian has some sort of role in that (though he may be completely oblivious). There is also the fascinating issue of Severian being an unreliable narrator. I’m not prepared to call him a “liar” (as some readers have done) because I can’t find much evidence that he purposely lies to us. I think, rather, that his perceptions and memory are faulty. His claim that his memory is perfect may not be a lie, but rather his own misperception.

Gene Wolfe doesn’t much care for a traditional fantasy setting and he also doesn’t respect the traditional mechanics of storytelling. Tight plot? Why bother? This story wanders — seemingly aimlessly — all across the country (or maybe not, because we may have ended up where we started, but who knows?). Characters, conversations, and events that appear to be significant may mean nothing. There are hints of lost races, species, technologies, knowledge, and allegorical meaning that may never be explained and connected for us at the end. There is plenty of bizarreness (even an Ames Room!), which is what I enjoy most.

Wolfe’s world is rich, most of what happens is unexpected, and the reader feels completely helpless to predict anything or even to be assured that things that will work out as they’re “supposed to” in a fantasy novel. Imagine that you’re reading one of those epics where you’ve cleverly figured out that the orphan boy hero is really the long-lost son of the king, but… the author won’t acknowledge this. That would be weird and somewhat disconcerting. That’s how it feels to read The Book of the New Sun. How strange and refreshing!

At the end of The Claw of the Conciliator, Severian says (just as he did at the end of The Shadow of the Torturer) that he doesn’t blame us if we don’t want to continue walking with him (“it is no easy road”). But we’re in Gene Wolfe’s creative hands, so it’s not the destination; it’s the journey that’s paramount. If you’re ready to embark on this strange trip, I recommend Audible Frontiers’ audio version. Jonathan Davis is a favorite of mine and he does an amazing job with this difficult piece.
Profile Image for J.G. Keely.
546 reviews9,587 followers
November 6, 2019
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 one concession: Wolfe is an author who defies expectations. Unfortunately, I was expecting him to be remarkable and interesting.

This book had been sitting on my shelf for months, along with other highly-praised works I've been looking forward to, but I bade my time, waiting for the mood to strike. Few live up to their reputation, but most at least deliver part of the promise.

I would expect any author mentioned in the same breath as Peake to have an original and vibrant style, but I found Wolfe's writing to be simple without being elegant. His language and structure serves its purpose, only occasionally rising above mere utilitarianism, and then he rushes to florid flourishes that fall flat as often as they succeed. Sometimes, it is downright dull. The prose of the second book is stronger than the first, but its plot and characters are more linear and predictable.

I appreciated his 'created language' more than most fantasy authors, but I didn't find it particularly mysterious or difficult, because all of his words are based on recognizable Germanic or Romantic roots. Then again, after three years of writing stories about Roman whores in Latin, I had little problem with 'meretriculous'. Even those words I wasn't familiar with seemed clear by their use.

The terms are scattered throughout the book, but rarely contribute to a more pervasive linguistic style, as might be seen in The Worm Ouroboros, The Lord of the Rings, Gormenghast, or The King of Elfland's Daughter. Wolfe's terms pepper otherwise and unremarkable modern style, which hardly helps to throw us into a strange world.

He is better than the average fantasy author, but he resembles them more than he differs from them. His protagonist started off interestingly enough: an apparently weak and intelligent man, which made it all the more disappointing when he suddenly transformed into a laconic, wench-loving buttkicker who masters sword-fighting, finds the Super Magic Thing and follows the path of his Awesome Foretold Fate. Again, I must agree with Nick Lowe: Wolfe's plot owes more to magic and convenience than good storytelling.

It relies on the same tricks over and over: any time a character is about to give important information to us, there will be a sudden attack or other interruption, as convenient and annoying as the moment when the dying man says "I was killed by . . . aargh". We also get problems solved by divine intervention whenever things start to slow, which doesn't leave the characters much room to be active.

He also seems to suffer from the same sexual discomfort that plagues so many fantasy authors. There is an undercurrent of obsession with women and their sexuality, complete with the sexualization of rape and murder. It's not so much a case of misogyny as it is an inequality in how characters behave.

The women always seem to end up as playtoys for the narrator, running around naked, desiring him, sparring with him coyly, but ultimately, conquered; and the camera pans away. They always approach him, desire him, pretending they don't want him, then give themselves up to him. It's the same old story of an awkward, emotionless male protagonist who is inexplicably followed and harangued by women who fall in love with him for no given reason, familiar to anyone who's seen a harem anime.

I will grant that the women have more character than the average fantasy heroine, but it still doesn't leave them with much. Instead of giving into love at first sight, they fight it as long as they can, making it that much sweeter when the narrator finally 'wins'. The sexuality was not new, interesting, arousing, or mutual, it was merely the old game of 'overcoming the strong woman' that is familiar to readers of the Gor books.

The sense of 'love' in The New Sun is even more unsettling. It descends on the characters suddenly and nonsensically, springing to life without build or motivation. The word never comes up in connection with any psychological development, nor does it ever seem to match the relationships as they are depicted. More often than not, it seems love is only mentioned so the narrator can coldly break his lover's trust in the next chapter.

Several times, the narrator tries to excuse himself for objectifying women by mentioning that he also objectifies ugly women. What this convolution of misogyny is supposed to represent, I couldn't say. The narrator seems very interested in this fact, and is convinced that it makes him a unique person. It made it very clear to me why the most interesting antiheroes tend to be gruff and laconic, because listening to a chauvinistic sociopath talk about himself is insufferable.

Then there is the fact that every character you meet in the story turns up again, hundreds of miles away, to reveal that they are someone else and have been secretly controlling the action of the plot. It feels like the entire world is populated by about fifteen people who follow the narrator around wherever he goes. If the next two books continue along the same lines, then the big reveal will be that the world is entirely populated by no more than three superpowered shapeshifters.

Everyone in the book has secret identities, secret connections to grand conspiracies, and important plot elements that they conveniently hide until the last minute, only doling out clues here and there. There are no normal people in this world, only double agents and kings in disguise. Every analysis I've read of this book mentions that even the narrator is unreliable.

This can be an effective technique, but in combination with a world of infinite, unpredictable intrigue, Wolfe's story begins to evoke something between a soap opera and a convoluted mystery novel, relying on impossible and contradictory scenarios to mislead the audience. Apparently, this is the thing his fans most appreciate about him--I find it to be an insulting and artificial game.

I agree with this reviewer that there is simply not enough structure to the story to make the narrator's unreliability meaningful. In order for unreliable narration to be effective, there must be some clear and evident counter-story that undermines it. Without that, it is not possible to determine meaning, because there's nowhere to start: everything is equally shaky.

At that point, it's just a trick--adding complexity to the surface of the story without actually producing any new meaning. I know most sci fi and fantasy authors seem to love complexity for its own sake, but it's a cardinal sin of storytelling: don't add something into your story unless it needs to be there. Covering the story with a lot of vagaries and noise may impress some, but won't stand up to careful reading.

Fantasy novels are often centered on masculinity, violence, and power struggles, and so by making the narrator an emotionally distant manipulator with sociopathic tendencies, Wolfe's story is certainly going to resemble other genre outings. If Severian is meant to be a subversion of the grim antihero, I would expect a lot of clever contradiction which revealed him. His unreliability would have to leave gaping holes that point to another, more likely conclusion. If the protagonist's mendacious chauvinism is not soundly contradicted, then there is really nothing separating him from what he is supposed to be mocking.

Poe's Law states that it can be difficult to tell whether something is an act of mockery or an example of genuine extremism, and perhaps that's what's going on here: Wolfe's mockery is so on-the-nose that it is indistinguishable from other cliche genre fantasy. But even if that were true, then the only thing separating Wolfe from the average author is the fact that he's doing it on purpose, which is hardly much of a distinction. If a guy punches himself in the nose and then insists "I meant to do that", I don't think that makes him any less of a dumbass.

Human psychology and politics are fraught enough without deliberately obfuscating them. Unfortunately, Wolfe does not have the mastery of psychology to make a realistically complicated text, only a cliched text that is meta-complicated.

After finishing the book, I tried to figure out why it had garnered so much praise. I stumbled across a number of articles, including this one by Gaiman and this one by an author who wrote a book of literary analysis about the New Sun series.

Both stressed that Wolfe was playing a deliberate meta-fictional game with his readers, creating mysteries and clues in his book for them to follow, so that they must reread the text over and over to try to discern what is actually happening. I won't claim this isn't a technical feat, but I would suggest that if Wolfe wanted us to read his book over and over, he might have written it with verve, style, character, and originality. As the above critic says:
"On a first, superficial reading, there is little to distinguish Wolfe’s tetralogy from many other sf and fantasy novels . . . The plot itself is apparently unremarkable."

Perhaps I'm alone in this, but I have no interest in reading your average sword-wielding badass gender-challenged fantasy book over and over in the hopes that it will get better. If Wolfe is capable of writing an original and interesting story, why cover it with a dull and occasionally insulting one?

I have enjoyed complex books before, books with hidden messages and allusions, but they were interesting both in their depths and on the surface. I didn't find the New Sun books particularly complex or difficult. His followers have said that he isn't 'concerned with being conspicuously witty', but I'd suggest he's merely incapable of being vibrant or intriguing.

There were interesting ideas and moments in the book, and I did appreciate what originality Wolfe did have, but I found it strange that such a different mind would produce such hidebound prose, tired descriptions, convenient plots, and unappealing characters. It has usually been my experience that someone who is capable of thinking remarkable things is capable of writing remarkable things.

Sure, there were some interesting Vancian moments, where you realize that some apparently magical effect is actual a piece of sci fi detritus: this character is a robot, that tower is actually a rocket, a painting of a mythical figure clearly depicts an astronaut--but this doesn't actually add anything to the story, they weren't important facts, they were just details thrown in.

It didn't matter that any of those things were revealed to be something else than they appeared, because it didn't change anything about the story, or the characters, or the themes or ideas. These weren't vital and strange ideas to be explored, like the mix of sci fi and fantasy in Vance, Le Guin, or M. John Harrison, but inconsequential 'easter eggs' for obsessing fans to dig up.

As Clarke's Third Law says: any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. Therefore, switching back and forth between magical explanations and super-technological ones doesn't mean much, on its own. They're indistinguishable. Star Wars may use the trappings of sci fi, but it's just a fantasy story about wizards and knights in space. In order to make the distinction meaningful, you've got to put some kind of spin on it.

Overall, I found nothing unique in Wolfe. Perhaps it's because I've read quite a bit of odd fantasy; if all I read was mainstream stuff, then I'd surely find Wolfe unpredictable, since he is a step above them. But compared to Leiber, Howard, Dunsany, Eddison, Kipling, Haggard, Peake, Mieville, or Moorcock, Wolfe is nothing special.

Perhaps I just got my hopes up too high. I imagined something that might evoke Peake or Leiber (at his best), perhaps with a complexity and depth gesturing toward Milton or Ariosto. I could hardly imagine a better book than that, but even a book half that good would be a delight--or a book that was nothing like that, but was unpredictable and seductive in some other way.

I kept waiting for something to happen, but it never really did. It all plods along without much rise or fall, just the constant moving action to make us think something interesting is happening. I did find some promise, some moments that I would have loved to see the author explore, particularly those odd moments where Silver Age Sci Fi crept in, but each time he touched upon these, he would return immediately to the smallness of his plot and his annoying prick of a narrator. I never found the book to be difficult or complex, merely tiring. the unusual parts were evasive and vague, and the dull parts constant and repetitive.

The whole structure (or lack of it) does leave things up to interpretation, and perhaps that's what some readers find appealing: that they can superimpose their own thoughts and values onto the narrator, and onto the plot itself. But at that point, they don't like the book Wolfe wrote, they like the book they are writing between his lines.

I'll lend the book out to some fantasy-loving friends and they'll buy the next one, which I'll then have to borrow from them so I can see if there's ever a real payoff. Then again, if Sevarian's adolescent sexuality is any evidence, the climax will be as underwhelming as the self-assured, fumbling foreplay. If I don't learn to stop giving my heart away, it's just going to get broken again.

Ah well, once more unto the breach.

My Fantasy Book Suggestions
Profile Image for Markus.
470 reviews1,519 followers
May 15, 2016
I have the same feeling about The Claw of the Conciliator as I had about the first part of the Book of the New Sun. This series is meant to be read for the second time.

And to be able to do that, I have to get through the tedious journey to the end...
Profile Image for Bill Kerwin.
Author 1 book81.2k followers
April 9, 2020

People tell me that Gene Wolfe’s tetralogy The Book of the New Sun is a fantasy masterpiece, but after completing the first two volumes, the jury—at least this particular one-man jury—is still out.

In my review of the first volume, The Shadow of the Torturer, I praised the superb prose, the vivid descriptions, the realistic evocations of a pseudo-medieval world, and the tantalizing possibility that it may be the culmination of a great civilization (possibly ours) in decline.

All this is equally true of The Claw of the Conciliator, and it has been more than enough to keep me reading. But there is something about the studied guardedness of Severian, protagonist and narrator, that wearies me. I like a hero who, however flawed, I can identify with and root for, and the chilly precision of Severian’s voice—frosty even in his frankest revelations—prevents me from fully committing myself either to his story or his fate. And, not being fully committed, I have come to view Severian’s journeying—however unfairly—as picaresque meanderings, not a quest. (Besides, an event I’d looked forward to—Dr. Talos’ play—disappointed me. I understand it is founding myth, and a commentary on the characters, but it was very long, and I have concluded (pace Gene Wolfe) that Dr. Talos is a very poor writer.)

Still, there are plenty of individual scenes that pleased me here, scenes that remain in the memory: Severian’s interview with the green man from the future: our hero’s use of the Claw to fend off the man-apes, while something leviathan stirs the waters below; a midnight supper with Vodalus, where Severian consumes a lover’s flesh and enters into a kind of communion; the notules, small things that fly through the forest air and try to suck the life-force from Severian; the grotesque diminution of the gorgeous Jolene after the single bite of a blood-bat; and the final spectral dance in the streets of an ancient stone town.

As I said, my jury is still out. Well, let the deliberations begin again! On to The Sword of the Lictor!
Profile Image for Brent.
383 reviews38 followers
February 23, 2023
What a book. Yes there were parts that were very obtuse but I was never bored. I love Severian as a character so umm multi-layered. Moreover, I love Wolfe's writing. It's beautiful while also being archaic and weird. And even if a lot of the allusions and references go over my head I love to stop and puzzle on them. And finally I love the weirdness of the world as we learn more about it. That is part of the reason why I liked this more than book 1. As we explore the world outside of Nessus and the Citadel you get to experience so much more of the strange world Wolfe has built, and it is fantastic.
Profile Image for Jake Bishop.
276 reviews308 followers
September 19, 2022
This was a really interesting read. Although I found the ending stretch to be particularly obtuse.

For most of this story, even when I was missing a ton, I was still able to enjoy what I was getting, but that was not the case for bits down the stretch
Profile Image for Doug.
84 reviews54 followers
April 23, 2020
Now that I’ve read my second Gene Wolfe book, I can’t help but notice some striking similarities between both of the first books in his famed The Book of the New Sun series.

First of all, his writing in both books is gorgeous bordering almost impeccable. Seriously. If any fantasy/sci-fi fans are tired of dull and trite writing and want something a little more vintage and colorful, these books are a godsend.

Secondly, I noticed that while reading this book, just like the first book, the first half drew me in completely and left me utterly spellbound with wonder at the sheer size and scale of the world and characters Wolfe has created, only to be left befuddled and confused in the second half. To help things a little, however, the endings to both volumes were satisfying and helped to tie some loose ends together in my head.

Overall, it’s a fantastically written series but not the most accessible and I’ll almost certainly have to read these books again to wrap my head around them.
Profile Image for Olethros.
2,610 reviews419 followers
May 11, 2020
-Sigue importando más el “viaje” que el “destino”.-

Género. Ciencia ficción (aunque siga pareciendo fantasía y, en realidad, no importe).

Lo que nos cuenta. En el libro La garra del conciliador (publicación original: The Claw of the Conciliator, 1981), el torturador caído en desgracia Severian debe seguir su camino en dirección a Thrax, donde debe exiliarse. Pero toma varios desvíos y se ve envuelto en distintos acontecimientos, porque cree haberse topado con personas de su pasado, que revelarán más sobre el mundo en el que vive y que lo harán poseedor de una reliquia legendaria. Segundo volumen de la saga El libro del sol nuevo.

¿Quiere saber más de este libro, sin spoilers? Visite:

Profile Image for aPriL does feral sometimes .
1,863 reviews420 followers
June 14, 2019
I think the author Gene Wolfe got caught up in showing off his knowledge of world myths and forgot he was writing a novel. If you have studied myths, then maybe you will enjoy 'The Claw of the Conciliator', book two in 'The Book of the New Sun' series.

While 'The Book of the New Sun' series is brilliant, I can't imagine anyone saying at this point, "wow, exciting series, can't wait for the next one!" and actually mean it, unless you are a student of mythology, experimental literature and want to do some showing off yourself in reading almost incomprehensible books. Probably readers who have completed Infinite Jest and Ulysses are bragging about having 'enjoyed this brilliant literary tour-de-force!' Which it is, actually, but exciting?

For me, not so much at this point. This is a fictional fantasy series, but it's not only that. There are four of these mythological dreamscape novels to wander through if you read the entire series. I am not exaggerating about the wandering part, as our narrator Severian continues to travel and travel. Plus, there are a lot of fables and myths told in the storytelling of each book between the seemingly pointless psuedo-action and conversations. At this point, I would not recommend starting this series unless you are a heavyweight college literature MFA graduate or a wanna be self-taught homeschooled wilder.

Perhaps you should read the first one in the series, The Shadow of the Torturer, enjoy it, and quit there. This second in the series, 'The Claw of the Conciliator', sort of picks up after the first one. There is no way you can read this without having read the first one, in my opinion.

Without knowing, I mean really KNOWING, your world myths, more than half of the goings on in this book will fly miles over your head, and you will spend hours reading chapter after chapter saying to yourself, "Did someone slip me a hallucinogenic? The words aren't making sense. What happened to the plot? Is this happening or is the narrator Severian dreaming?" for almost the entire 300 pages. For the record, I was a wanna-be Great Literature expert, so I spent a couple of years in self-study reading The Great Books list. I'm glad I did it because it does make a sophisticated reader out of you. That doesn't stop me from being dismayed by Wolfe's decision to make this four-book series a pyrotechnical literary display of world myths! In my opinion, it should have been one book if he was going to pull crap like this on the general reading public. But I bet his professors were proud - seriously. Don't mind my kibitzing - I'm suffering from brain strain.

I simply am going to put some Wikipedia links out there. I use Wikipedia because of its accessibility, not because it's the best place to get an idea of the myths Wolfe might have been referencing. I'm guessing at the references, number one, and I don't have an MFA, number two.

For one guess, I am guessing the god Tyr ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Týr ) was a source of part of who the character Jonas is, as well as maybe a mash up of Christian figures. Gene Wolfe was raised as a Catholic, and most Catholic writers seem to have mild PTSD psychologically, scarred by the imagery and stories they grew up with. I have found myself musing with jealousy that I was unfortunately raised in a very boring, if likewise overwhelmingly illogical and soul-threatening, Protestant branch which was dull vanilla baby food in Sunday lessons compared to the Catholic Church in theological imagery.

To read this novel, you'll probably need to review http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christia.... While in fact Christianity is not a primary source of any world myths since it is a religion which certainly stole and transformed the older myths into a Christian/Catholic version, it is the one most Western World citizens know.

Just for fun, see the similarities in world religions:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yama_(Bu... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islamic_..., http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Egyptian... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sumerian... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norse_my....

In 'The Claw of the Conciliator' are loads of death-resurrection/regeneration examples, so I guess that's one of the main images Wolfe wants to playfully see how often he can work it in. This is part of why I'm annoyed with this series - Wolfe was SO self-indulgent.

The novel also has a story of corn girls, so here are links to corn god myths: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maya_mai..., and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demeter, for example, but there are lots of other corn gods, some of whom are male.

Some scholars think the Egyptians and other ancient people really sacrificed kings and leaders to the corn harvest, not just symbolically, thinking it was required for a good harvest. Again, the death-sacrifice-growing back-regeneration-resurrection idea. From what I can tell, the death-resurrection motif is the oldest religious idea going back millennia before Christianity/Jewish/Islam faiths.

If you are thinking, "wtf, what is the book about!", explaining the plot cannot be done, except that Severian is taking the long route to his assigned destination and he is having traveling adventures, and re-meeting characters he met in the first book. So, I'll talk about some plot points that struck me. Space alien artifacts are everywhere, but space travel and alien contact from the previous centuries seems to have remarkably little interest for Severian and his people. It's all about surviving localized nasty social class power struggles and poverty.

My mythological character guesses for those who have read the novel:

At one point, Baldanders is seen to have floating over his head by Severian the images of: a fishing boat (Jesus?) a gray-haired woman from his side (Athena?) cold wind-whipped flames Baldanders is standing in (not, since it's a hallucination, but as far as the myth it is referencing, pick one of several dozens - Moses and the burning bush, for one).

With all of the water and drowning references in the series, perhaps a link to a flood myth is in order: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mesoamer... etc etc etc.

Trikele, the three legged dog (now there is a multi-mythic magical number) could be Cerberus http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cerberus.

The monkey people could be about devolution or http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vanara

The green man forest guy(s) who are constantly brought in by Wolfe in a variety of characters: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Green_Man

The eating of people occurs over and over in the book, which is done to gain their memories, talents and spirit. This is an actual reality-based, true world-wide religious belief, including the eating of Jesus's blood and body every Sunday in church, as well as by the so-called 'primitive cannibals' discovered by the Western World explorers, never linking the similar beliefs, of course.

The slow moving statue is a puzzle, but he reminded me of an old Doctor Who episode regarding a plot by the Master and other TV plots http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php.... This is a similar, constantly used trope, like the hero losing his right hand, which as I said above I think is related to the god Tyr.

We have demons who are 'traders' which could literally be traders of mankind goods or metaphorically of souls, or it could be a sound-alike word like traitors.

The Autarch is described as an androgynous Universal Mind (clearly god).

We have a lot of visions of a naked man walking around gardens. Duh, for Christians, right? Hint: Adam.

The Conciliator character is metaphorically every mystical trope that ever was developed to reconcile mankind to the gods or the universe. The Claw, a magical gem, heals and it is called 'The Claw of the Conciliator'.


One last observation. Every single character is actually, I think, a blurred mash up of many mythic characters - gods of many masks, as I think I remember Joseph Campbell putting it in his Myth series The Hero's Adventure: Power of Myth 1, The Myths and Masks of God: Joseph Campbell Audio Collection. For example, while the god Tyr lost his right hand, I don't think the character Jonas is pure Tyr. He is probably a mix of many similar type gods from all over the world since almost every religion throughout time has a Tyr-type god in their Canon. So the Autarch could be Zeus, Allah, God, Jupiter, Buddha - and all of those answers are correct.

This isn't a fun read in the usual sense, but it is in a brain candy sense.
Profile Image for Hazal Çamur.
172 reviews200 followers
May 17, 2020
Severian anılarını anlatmaya devam ediyor. Gene Wolfe ise doğrusal olmayan anlatıcılığını aynı başarı ve zorlukla sürdürüyor. Gerçekten sürdürmesi zor bir tarz, ancak bu konuda okur kadar zorlanmıyor sanırım. Başarısını yadsıyamam.

Uzlaştırıcının Pençesi, bana İşkencecinin Gölgesi'nden bir tık daha karışık geldi. İşkencecinin Gölgesi'nde başlarda bocalamış, 50'den sonra kopup gitmiştim, bu kitapta ise ortalarında tökezlediğimi hissettim.

Yazar için doğrusal gitmiyor demiştim, hemen bir örnek vereyim. Örneğin Jonas karakteri, nasıl geldi, ne oldu, bundan sonra ne olacak gibi soruları sırasıyla sormamıza izin vermeyen bir işleyişe sahip. Aynı şekilde kurgudan çıkışı da öyle. Bir yerden sonra anlıyorsunuz ancak anlayana kadar geçen sürede her şey çok hızlı olup bitiyor ve okurda bir şeyleri kaçırma hissiyatı uyandırıyor.

Urth'e dair yeni bilgiler ediniyor, ilk kitaptaki gibi geçmiş ve gelecekten başka ipuçları elde ediyoruz. Diğer yandan zamanın geçtiğini de yine Severian üzerinden hissediyoruz. Çünkü Severian'ın genç bir erkek olan yanını bu kitapta daha baskın görüyoruz. Bu da onun adım adım büyüdüğünün işareti.

Bu kitabın benim için asıl olayı Mutlak Yuva ve Vodalus'tu açıkçası. Birçok detayıyla da ayrıca güzelleşen eser, ilk kitapta en merak ettiğim iki unsuru temel alarak beni mutlu etti.

Gene Wolfe'un en etkinlendiğim yanı, yarattığı dünyaya yeni kavramlar oluşturmak yerine tarihsel ifadeleri, unvanları, türleri vs alıp bunu kendi oluşturduğu evrene entegre edebilme yeteneği. Bunun kendi içinde mantıklı da bir yanı var ki, ilk kitabı okuyanlar nedenini biliyor. Bence zekice; ayrıca çok da büyük bir araştırmanın sonucu olduğunu hissettiriyor.

Çeviri yine muazzam olduğu gibi, çevirmen Kerem Sanatel dipnotlarını bu kitapta bir üst seviyeye daha çıkararak, bazı paragraflarda ilk kitapta nereyi işaret ettiğini okura hatırlatmak adına ilk kitapta geçtiği bölümleri not düşmüş. Bir okur olarak büyük saygı duydum. Bunu kaç çevirmen yapıyor? Ayrıca Wolfe'un temel aldığı tarihsel kavramları ve göndermeleri de, tıpkı ilk kitapta olduğu gibi, dipnotlarıyla okura aktarmaya devam ediyor. Biz de kitabı bırakıp Google'a yönelmek yerine kitapla kalmaya devam ediyoruz.

İlginçtir, normalde yazım hataları kitapların orta ve son kısımlarında olur. Bu kitaptaysa başında bazı hatalar mevcuttu, sonra da bir daha esameleri okunmadı. Başlardaki birkaç hatayı geçince geriye tertemiz bir okuma alanı kaldı.

Devamını merakla bekliyorum. Serinin Kerem Sanatel'e teslim edilmesinden de inanılmaz mutluyum.
Profile Image for Mark.
73 reviews11 followers
September 14, 2011
I finished this book and I'm looking forward to the next one in the series. I will add a more comprehensive review later. It's tough to figure out how I feel about this series. I like it. I might love it.

Words I had to look up online:
indanthrene - a shade of blue.
cacogen - an antisocial person.
hexaemeron - the first six days of creation.
meretrices - plural of meretrix, a prostitute.
baluchither - a now-extinct mammal that was 18 feet tall, 30 feet long, and weighed 20 tonnes. Also called Paraceratherium.
Theologoumenon - a theological interpretation that is suggested as possibility, not a decisive call to belief
phororhacos - a large now-extinct flightless predatory bird, like an ostrich that eats meat. 8 feet tall and 280 pounds
analeptic alzabo - analeptic means "having to do with the central nervous system" and alzabo is a fictional alien species like a carniverous bear covered in red fur.
alouattes - plural of alouatte, a species of howler monkey.
berdiches - an axe-like polearm.
spadroon - a light sword with a straight blade of the cut and thrust type.
tribade - a lesbian.
extrasolarians - aliens from a different star system than Sol, our sun.
Heirodules - plural of Heriodule, a temple prostitute.
thiasus - a group of singers and dancers assembled to celebrate a festival of one of the gods.
quercine penetralia - quercine means having the characteristics of an oak and penetralia is the innermost sanctuary of a temple.
upanga - a type of bagpipe played in southern India.
achico - a weapon that looks like and is used like a bola, but has three weighted balls instead of two.
philomath - a lover of learning or one who loves to learn.
Hastarii - one of the groups in a Roman Legion, comprised of lower/middle class people and using bronze weapons and armor. They fought with short sword and javelin.
ossifrage - a bird of prey.
lammergeir - a type of vulture.
alfange - a type of wide, short and curved sword that has a cutting edge only on one side.
calotte - a skullcap or an architectural feature shaped like a skullcap.
gramary - black magic.
pommander ball - a ball made of perfumes.
spadone - a type of sword.
ilanero - a spanish word for plainsman.
khaibit - a shadow. In the book it is a prostitute that looks exactly like someone famous.
algedonic - pertaining to pain, especially in association with pleasure.
haematidrosis - sweating blood.
megathere - a large extinct ground sloth.
algophilist - someone who enjoys pain, like a sadomasochist.
piquenaires - a soldier whose main weapon is a type of spear.
merychip - a type of horse.
odalisque - a female slave or concubine in a harem.
oread - a type of nymph that lives in mountains, valleys, or ravines.
Septentrion - a word to describe northern regions or the north.
epopt - one who has been instructed in the mysteries of a secret system.
Profile Image for Mike (the Paladin).
3,145 reviews1,805 followers
November 11, 2014
Well, this one was not as enthralling to me as the first. Here we follow our hero (so to speak) through many, varied and esoteric adventures and...finally, at long last, as the book ends

I mentioned in my review of the first volume of this series that there is, especially through the internal dialogues a very existential part of this story. That comes more to the forefront here. We also get lots and lots AND LOTS of hints about the world, it's past, what has gone on over the millennia and so on. We get fractured and somewhat changed even twisted fragments of history, mythology, the Bible and so on.

All this is in it's own way interesting but (frankly) for me it finally got a bit wearing. I was tired of staying with it. We waded through the tragedy, the revelations and the machinations and come to another...stopping point.

The book ends with same admonition as the first. That is our "hero" says he'll understand if we choose not to travel with him any further. This time I'm considering taking him up on his advice. If I read the third I think I'll give it some time first.
Profile Image for Dylan.
210 reviews
March 3, 2023
If you want to know my thoughts on SOTT, this will serve as an extension to that review here. The Shadow of the Torturer Review

“I believe there is no other difference between those who are called courageous and those who are branded craven than that the second are fearful before the danger and the first after it. No one can be much frightened, certainly, during a period of great and imminent peril -- the mind is too much concentrated on the thing itself, and on the actions necessary to meet or avoid it. The coward is a coward, then, because he has brought his fear with him; persons we think cowardly will sometimes amaze us by their bravery, if they have had no forewarning of their danger.”


Shadow of the Torturer is like a cyclical dream its both a fantastic and strange foundation. COTT manages to follow that up thankfully to even more bizarre territory. I would state, scoring was still uncertain until I got the big picture. For me, it lives up to the promise of the original. Which I will talk about in this review. But I will have to say I think this book truly lives up to the hype, in terms of its placement in Sci-Fi truly I do not think I will read something like this ever again.

Anyways SOTT was more just the first part of a book, it being the Fellowship of the Rings. This novel is like the first half of the Two Towers. Most arcs aren't complete though they are some but minimal, most are still developing. Severian has been growing in interesting ways throughout the journey pretty much all of it unexpectedly. This is probably the most difficult book to even predict you play a fool's game in doing so, but it's an interesting game.

Like Shadow of the Torturer, I have written a shit ton of notes, but it will excessively destroy this word count if I even attempt to publish it. Anyways on the topic, I was deciding if this review was even warranted to a degree I stated in SOTT that I don’t think I going to do another review which is half true this will be more extension of my prior review because I don’t think repeating the praise is necessary but the distinctive factors I will talk about right now. Again, the scoring going to be somewhat irrelevant because only read half of a book so far (SOTT and COTC included). In this review, I will be examining the writing, worldbuilding, characters, a few notable flaws and my final remarks. This review will be a non-spoiler with spoiler sections throughout tagged.


You read the ending of the SOTT and your like okay I need some answers well you have both some answers and none. Though the answers are filled with so much obscurity trying to wrap your mind in what happened in the SOTT ending is a guessing game.

Anyways if I were talking about the plot here I go:

this is where this loses a lot of people. Because chapter 23+24 is too much for a lot of people in many ways it's perfectly understandable. There's a certain explicit content done in chapter 23 which makes you think certain characters changed but unfortunately, they haven’t in many ways. Anyways after that what's worse is chapter 24, simply put the hardest chapter I’ve read in my entire life. It's not even poorly written kinda hard right? As difficult chapters can merely poorly communicate or badly written, here I cannot make that excuse. It's just so many narratives inside a narrative in COTT as a whole bunch more than SOTT or just harder to grasp which makes this such a loop. As there are 5 people playing a minimum of 20 people, replicating a real-life play. It's such a flex on Gene Wolfe's part in depicting it feeling realistic but god damn hard to grasp. Anyways the chapter I got the central theme basically but they do many aspects you feel like you have lost. Anyways all this shit is done and onwards it's basically the aftermath and mans it's truly interesting and wild. The Weird aspects are cranked up to another level. Though compared to SOTT I like the ending better here even though it's a completely mind-blown moment.


It's even more dreamlike and at points, it has truly higher than SOTT (like chapter 11) the dread and the atmosphere was akin to magic. The stories within stories are such a flex like a mashup of mythologies which makes an interesting read like chapter 17. It is a mix of Theseus and the naval Battle of Hampton Roads that is something you get straight away. But once you realise you realise oh shit regarding the meta-aspects. I know the books just get weirder; I am sure curious about how far can it go. Anyways if you love the writing of SOTT the same quality all around but even more surreal.


The worldbuilding is sometimes explicit, other times it's something you have to unpack its rewards you for paying attention. Like so many animals you meet which are most likely extinct or a certain species called something for Severian POV but someone else in the story calls it something else which is just funny as hell. Even the stories within stories tell you to want to happen to history and myths and how they merged. You get a rough idea of what the world is like outside of Urth. You explore more species in an interesting way, like a particular alien species which is mindfucking. Which is used in chapter 11 those who read it already knew. But yeah that chapter, in general, makes you reflect on the entire novel as a whole, why people do certain things at night.


The character work is just great, certain things unravelled which have made you rethink the entire series even SOTT. How certain things are addressed. If you like the character work in SOTT the same will remain, what's most interesting is how the side characters develop. What is initially portrayed one dimensional or simple has a lot more than meets the eye this is true for two people. . Rhere's have a lot of characters that are extremely well-developed but it takes too much time to dive into them. But all I will say is there's more than meets the eye.


Talked about in kinda in my story section. But sometimes it's too vague for its own good, which I mean I loved it but I can see other people disliking it. This is not a flaw but a protagonist being unlikable can be a turn-off and Severian does certain things you simply can’t defend him. You find him an interesting and complex character but he is not someone you should relate to by any means. If you dislike morally grey characters this ain't the series for you. As pretty much all the characters aren’t really good people with the exception of Dorcas and a few others.


Considering the extensive notes I’ve done for the series I don’t have the urge to plus it's hard to review something of this nature as it's 2/4 a novel ( in total). So I don’t have the overall picture yet, anyways if you love SOTT do check this out and continue this journey of Severian's extraordinary and triply place. It's awesome buddy reading this novel with someone has been great discussing it as I read this heavy read. If I were to score it still be a question mark:

Edit: after finishing BoTNS it's a 10/10
Profile Image for Palmyrah.
256 reviews57 followers
November 11, 2014
I am by no means competent to review this literary masterpiece, but — having read the litany of confusion on the review pages of this volume and its companions — I wish to state the following, simply in order to be helpful.

1. The four volumes of The Book of the New Sun are one long novel, not four separate books. It was originally published in four volumes because it was too expensive and cumbersome to print as one. Don't expect the satisfaction of an ending at the conclusion of every volume. Expect cliffhangers.

2. You will almost certainly doubt it more than once while you are reading, but the novel, taken as a whole, does tell a coherent, linear story. It is the story of how and why Severian, the narrator and hero, became what he is at the end of the last book. Everything you read, however irrelevant it may seem, is part of that story and vital to the plot. The apparently (but only apparently) meandering style of the narrative is designed to confuse. This book, more than most, is a game the reader is invited to play with the author.

3. The dice in this game are heavily loaded. It is impossible to understand The Book of the New Sun on a first reading. At any rate (and I have studied the matter), I have never heard or read of anyone who has. It is a book you have to read at least twice. The author actually tells you so explicitly, using the voice of Severian. Thoughtfully, he saves this advice until the last page of the last volume.

4. To complicate matters further, there is a story underneath the story. Understanding that story, you will at last understand why Severian's journey is so long and why the incidents in it are so strange and seemingly incomprehensible. This story may not reveal itself at even a second reading.

5. The small stories within the main narrative (there are many of them scattered throughout all four volumes) are also very relevant to the main plot, and even more relevant to the subtextual 'under-story' mentioned above. To repeat, nothing in The Book of the New Sun is irrelevant.

6. This is science fiction, not fantasy (even though it won a World Fantasy Award). Nothing supernatural happens in it, with the exception of two major, frequently-repeated events that take place at various points during the narrative. One you will not even realize is happening the first time you read the book; I actually had to have it pointed out to me after not even having noticed it on my second reading. The second is easy enough to spot, but is not really presented as supernatural. Anyway, in The Book of the New Sun, what is supernatural on one level always turns out to be perfectly natural on a different level — as indeed it must be, if you think about it. Even God can't be supernatural from His own point of view.

I have read this book three times over a period of roughly 20 years. My last reading began after having spent some months lurking on urth.net, an email forum dedicated to the works of Gene Wolfe, on which obsessive readers discuss his work in excruciating detail. Even so, there is much in The Book of the New Sun that I don't understand, though neither the plot nor the subtext are mysteries to me any longer.

This book certainly isn't for everyone; like Buddhism, you need to have travelled far along the path already before you can take it up and gain anything from it. It is a special treat for literary sophisticates who are also fans of fantasy and/or science fiction; not a very common combination. If you find what I have written above intriguing rather than offputting, Gene Wolfe's masterpiece may be for you. Otherwise, seriously, don't bother.

A final word of warning. if you are one of those people who think the meaning of a work of literature is contained in its symbolism, you will never understand Gene Wolfe. He loves to play with symbols, and he does it on practically every page of this book; but most of the time he does it playfully, as a literary conceit, and for the entertainment of the best-read among his readers. Follow his symbolism hoping to understand the story, and you will be woefully misled. I think he does it intentionally, and three cheers for him too.
Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 5 books3,910 followers
February 8, 2017
Welcome to Conan the Librarian set in the far, far distant future as he lops off heads, resurrects the dead, watches creation-epic plays, and misunderstands the meaning of the universe.

Sound interesting? I've got a claw here I'd like to sell you. It comes with about three tomes of myth references couched deeply in imagery, an insistence on making us think that we must, actually, be living in a disjointed dream, and admittedly damn awesome world-building taking Clarke's maxim to the max but letting us flounder about just as much as Severian our hapless executioner/tomekeeper.

This book is what I consider a *Difficult Reading Experience*, in the same way that any book that prefers to be overflowing with myth references can be, thoroughly confusing the reader if you're not reading the text on that level and probably confusing the hell out of the reader even if you are.

In that respect, this is probably a worse book than the first, which at least had a fairly comprehensible plot, character development, and fairly easy progression.

On the other hand, this one had some shockingly great action scenes that led to Severian's capture, reconfirmation within the ranks, a descent into the underworld, a jaunt with the morlocks, and a quiet season at the playhouse. With witches.

There is a lot to love, but I can't help but think that I'm missing a great portion of it. That which I do get, from Adam and Eve to Ulysses to the bucketful of archetypes, seems incomprehensible in terms of plot progression.

Except... And because I haven't done any additional research or read any scholarly works on this far future SF, this is only a slight and weird intuition on my part... I get the feeling that the far future, not only having colonized the universe and having conquered space AND time, they have also conquered the role of observation upon the continuum, and beyond that, are able to slip and slide along the slope of Metaphor Made Reality.

What does this mean? It means, in a very serious way, that our distant descendants are able to make their Jungian collective unconsciousness mix with the physical reality of the universe, limited only to what knowledge gets preserved over the ages and it is NOT quite functional. I think, in this case, it's tied to the Claw of the Conciliator, and because it's only Severian who's using it, I think we can blame all of this horrible mess on him.

Reasonable, right?

He's the one with the hodge-podge education, and everyone else in the world is swirling around and being modified right down to their experiences and memories as he goes along on his Grand Quest.

It's the only way that my poor abused mind can make sense of this wonderful, difficult, beautiful, crazy work.

Or maybe the worm eating the sun has finally finished the core, allowing it to collapse like rotten fruit, JUST LIKE MY BRAIN.

I'll leave it up to you, dear reader, to make the judgement call. :)
Profile Image for Olivia.
698 reviews117 followers
September 2, 2022
The Claw of the Conciliator is the second book in Gene Wolfe’s The Book of the New Sun series. If you - like me - read The Shadow of the Torturer and felt confused, lost...well, it doesn't get any better.

I'm here for the rich prose, but I'm not sure this series is for me. I struggled through the pages, felt like I'd jumped entire chapters, and wondered if a re-read would help.

But reading for me is a way to relax, and this series made me work. I might give it another go in a decade (or two).
Profile Image for Ivan.
415 reviews272 followers
July 16, 2020
A lot of digression that doesn't add to world building or characterization and story again moves at slow pace but everything is so well written that it doesn't take away from quality of this book. I really like that Wolf avoids exposition as much as possible and despite that world building blocks few and far between there is always sense of cohesive picture somewhere in background that only needs more puzzle pieces.

Profile Image for Terry .
394 reviews2,143 followers
January 7, 2019
So, we ended the last volume on a cliffhanger and start the next in a completely different place with no idea what happened. Sounds like a Wolfe novel all right, don’t get too comfortable.

We find ourselves in the village of Saltus, some miles north of the gate in the great Wall of Nessus where we last saw our ‘hero’ and his friends. Severian is riding a bit of a high and considers himself something of a celebrity as he is about to 'ply his art' at the behest of the leading magistrate as part of the local fair that is occurring. The unfortunate victims of justice include a woman accused of murdering her husband and child, a cattle thief, and a man said to be a compatriot of the famed rebel Vodalus. Severian has lost touch with all of his companions due to the still mysterious disturbance we witnessed at the gate with the exception of the sailor Jonas, a man he only met at the end of the last volume. The two have become friends in the intervening time and Jonas proves to be a man as mysterious as he is likeable. Severian himself continues to be as ambiguous a protagonist as ever as we witness the way in which he revels in his role of executioner, and wonder at the truth of his statements as inconsistencies begin to creep into his narrative. Is his eidetic memory truly as faultless as Severian claims, and even if it is does Severian want to tell us the whole truth of his life? We’ll be pondering the answers to those questions for the duration and no two readers are likely to come to the same conclusions.

There are some memorable scenes in this volume including the battle with a throng of bestial man-apes, the winding halls of the hidden House Absolute where the Autarch centres his rule & his mysterious vizier Father Inire performs his esoteric experiments, and a meeting with the forest outlaw Vodalus who invites Severian to a very special dinner, the effects of which will fundamentally change the young torturer forever.

We also come to see the titular ‘claw of the conciliator’ display its powers more openly through the unlikely hands of Severian and see him reunited with both old friends and foes as he continues travelling north on the road to Thrax. Be prepared: the ending of this volume is as mysterious as that for the one which proceeded it, and equally left unresolved should you persevere in following Severian on his difficult road.
Profile Image for Dawn F.
494 reviews67 followers
November 17, 2020
Okay, hear me out. I absolutely adore the lore, the mythology and the writing of this series, which makes it all the more painful that I’m finding myself growing annoyed with our man Severian. Rarely has a character lacked a personality as much as he does. He might as well be completely blank. What’s this man passionate about? What does he want, what does he fight for, what makes him go? Two books in and I have no idea who he is. I know he’s a torturer and an executioner, though he doesn’t seem to really feel one way or the other about any of that, either. I know he likes women, all of them, and believes himself somewhat intellectual, I guess, the way he “philosophizes” over love and lust. These women are for some unfathomable reason also attracted to him, because an wishy-washy killer is apparently very attractive. I just have absolutely no idea what anyone sees in him. He must be really well-endowed down there.

But I'm enjoying the story and the writing, so I will definitely continute the saga.
Profile Image for Korynn.
517 reviews10 followers
June 27, 2007
Well, this volume starts out by abandoning all the characters introduced to spend time with the last character introduced at the very end of the first volume. If this doesn't catch you off guard, you're a Gene Wolfe fan in the making. Again the environment seems as much a character as the protangonist, the stalwart Severian. Half the time while I'm reading I feel I'm way over my head wading through the middle of some allegory of prophetic literature and every sci-fi/fantasy literary allusion that can be tossed in to suit. The other half I'm bored by the verbose intellectual tone. Sentence constructions I have to deconstruct to understand. I'm trying to hard to enjoy this but trained by decades of schooling I will persevere to the end because I know no better. Actually my blundering through the book parallels Severian's role in the book... and I suppose mimics our lives.
Profile Image for Sarah.
729 reviews73 followers
July 25, 2016
I really liked the first half of this, but although I still thought the story was cool, I got kind of bored. Still, it was a good story and I'm curious to see where it's going next.
Profile Image for Sumant.
237 reviews8 followers
March 12, 2016
There is no magic. There is only knowledge, more or less hidden.

This quote sums up this book for me because the world which Wolfe presents to us has forgotten the use of the technology and using any kind of technology is magic to them. But uncovering this magic is what makes this world so hard to understand for the reader and it is not helped by the fact that it is exclusively told to us from the pov of Severian. Also there are lot of things hidden in the book with regards to symbolism which Wolfe employs, the play in this book is perfect example of that. This book challenges you mentally like none other that's what make it an engrossing read.

Some of the strong points of the book are

1.The world of Urth.
2.Finding some tidbit makes you happy.
3.The play.

Some of it's weak points are

1.It gets too much overwhelming at times.

Let me elaborate on the above points below

1.The world of Urth.

The story moves forward from the last book where Severian travels to the city of Thrax after being removed from the guild. on his way he makes a stop at the city of Saltus. Now this city gives us many insights where we have men from the future such as the Green men telling the future of people. There is so much hidden beneath the surface of these cities that you have to read very carefully and try to understand what exactly Severian just told you.At the end of the book Wolfe gives us a big clue regarding the place where our story is taking place.

This world is fascinating due to the fact that it has a technological level which has surpassed us but the people residing in it have completely forgotten this technology, and they describe the technology to us in terms of the magic they see and it is left to the reader to uncover what exactly they are trying to tell.

2.Finding some tidbit makes you happy.

I think I was able to uncover two to three things which Severian describes to us as completely irrational and I really felt a sense of achievement on being to see clearly. but unfortunately after that I was blind through most of the middle part of the book and recovered my interest at the end.

3.The play.

the play which Dr Talos organized was work of genius because there were so many things handled by Wolfe in it like the story of .

Regarding the weak point

1.It gets too much overwhelming at times.

As I explained before the middle part of the book went completely over my head, and Severian at the end of the book tells you too that it is hard journey reading this book and he completely agrees with the reader if he decides to quit.

If only Wolfe had given us more clues regarding the world it would have become enjoyable reading this book.

None the less I am going to continue this journey with Severian and hope that the series end gives answer to all the questions and confusions I have.

I give this book 3/5 stars.
Profile Image for Traveller.
223 reviews706 followers
February 19, 2011
The Book of The New Sun is one of Wolfe's more contraversial post-modernist experimentations in narrative structure, in which it is hard to judge each volume on its own; -to be fair, I feel one should read the cycle as a whole and judge it as a whole.

...and as to the accusations of misogynism, I don't really see much misogynism in Severian's sexual escapades as much as in his continual judgement of women as being "weak" and his continuous harping on this theme, which does come across as pretty much a machismo attitude, and which I think might be Wolfe's own attitude rather than just that of Severian's - I'd have to re-read other works by the author to be sure of this, though.

As for the 'machismo torturer' image, (Severian leaping bare-chested and cloaked onto the execution stage under much applause, for instance) I do think some of that is a tongue-in-cheek jab at stereotypes as well as a bitter look at the fascination many humans seem to feel with gore, horror and death - therefore the sick adulation that Severian gleans from the populace who love to watch him kill.

Let's face it, all of us have some kind of emotional reaction towards death, and death is indeed a topical subject for us all, as we all have to face it sometime or another.

It's also a subject which has fascinated the creators of literature since the beginnings of literature itself.

Wolfe does an interesting "take" on death, memories and immortality in the idea of continued consciousness through other humans via the rather repellent and unsavory ritual with the Alzabo gland.

Talking of stereotypes, I had consistently thought of Jolenta as the typical sexually charismatic narcissistic movie-star type (male or female) who believe they are God's gift to the opposite sex. This image was confirmed for me, and expanded to the cosmetic surgery and botox enhanced crowd that one finds in celebrity circles these days, at the end of the book when a bit of a 'reveal' on Jolenta is done. It seemed to me as if Wolfe is expressing an opinion of initial disgust which is later tempered with pity when he shows the emotional and psychological vulnerability that this type of person often carries with them behind their public masks.

I'll reserve final judgement of the series until I've re-read the last volume, which I'd read long ago as a teenager, and on which I'm pretty sure my opinion might have changed in the meantime.
Profile Image for Kevin Kelsey.
400 reviews2,179 followers
May 8, 2016
Massively boring wheel-turning middle novel in a series that somehow won a Nebula in 1982. The last lines of this novel are:

“Here I pause. If you wish to walk no farther with me, reader, I do not blame you. It is no easy road.”

And I am very tempted to take you up on that offer of abandonment Gene, because your second novel in The Book of the New Sun was such a huge pain in the ass to get through, even at its scant 275 pages. I will say this though, there are enough cool little tidbits in here that it is possible for this to be redeemable at some point as long as there are some satisfying answers in the last 2 volumes. Although, I'm pretty worried that it'll go the way of LOST and just keep setting up mystery upon mystery upon mystery and never conclude anything in a reasonable way.

I'm saving my final opinion until I've read all of them (still not sure if I'm going to), because this is really only 1/4 of the huge novel The Book of the New Sun.
Profile Image for Jefferson.
491 reviews11 followers
October 25, 2012
If Gene Wolfe's The Shadow of the Torturer (1980) is Severian's bildingsroman, depicting his growth from a boy apprentice to a young journeyman of the guild of torturers and his exile into the world outside it, The Claw of the Conciliator (1981), the second novel in Wolfe's four-book science fiction classic The Urth of the New Sun, is his romance, relating his experiences--many involving women he loves--outside Nessus, the City Imperishable, as he attempts to travel north to become the lictor of Thrax. The novel also traces his growing awareness of the powers of the awesome jewel hidden in his sabertache, the Claw of the Conciliator.

The second novel is more difficult than the first, having less humor and more disturbing things, including a woman's graphic execution, excessive "cooing," narcotic cannibalism, algophiliac sex, an awful fate for an artificially beautiful woman, and a confusing climax (that isn't explained till the third book). The darker mood of the novel is reflected by a line Severian sees in the Book of Wonders of Urth and Sky: "Hell has no limits, nor is circumscribed, for where we are is Hell, and where Hell is, there we must be."

Moreover, the two longest chapters of the novel consist of a story that Severian reads aloud and of a transcription of play that Dr. Talos' company performs, and although the story and especially the play (a series of funny lines and outrageous scenes satirizing religion, politics, and humanity and reflecting a culture longing for a new sun) are interesting, they both seem to last too long.

All that said, there are many poignant and sublime points in the novel, which thrums with Wolfe's perfect prose, exotic vocabulary, philosophical asides, and vivid, dream-like descriptions. And there are many powerful moments, as when Severian hears an apocalyptic step in a deep mine, raises his "iron phallus" over Agia, enters Vodalus' forest headquarters atop an elephantine baluchither, looks in a man-sized mirror-paged book in the House Absolute, tosses a coin into the Vatic Fountain there, talks with Dorcas about the Conciliator, and sees and is seen by the mythic Apu-Punchau.

And another line in the novel beatifies the Hell vision: "In the final reckoning there is only love, only that divinity." Indeed, this novel is largely about love in many of its forms, among them Severian's sad and abiding first love for Thecla, his protective and companionable love for Dorcas, his self-destructive love for Agia, his resentful lust for Jolenta, his awed attraction for a gargantuan undine, his lost love for his mother, his warm friendship for Jonas, and his fly-captured-in-amber admiration for Vodalus. At one point Severian senses Thecla's mind inside his: "We were one, naked and happy and clean, and we knew that she was no more and that I still lived, and we struggled against neither of those things, but with woven hair read from a single book and talked and sang of other matters."
Profile Image for Pranav Prabhu.
169 reviews56 followers
June 4, 2021
I don't have much to say about this novel that I didn't say in my review of the first book, except that some of the puzzle pieces are becoming clearer and new factors are being introduced. There is a slow unveiling of certain mysteries from book 1 while also introducing further variables that play into the story.

The first half was definitely my favourite so far. The atmospheric nature of the forests and caves, the crumbs of lore that are vaguely analogous to our current Earth, and the introduction of more overt sci-fi technology made it an entrancing read. Wolfe's prose is brilliant in conveying a sense of mystery, wonder, and terror in all the appropriate sections. The narrative also contains stories within stories, and in this novel, there is a play performed by various people regarding the coming of the New Sun. Honestly, it is the most confusing thing I have ever read. While I was able to make certain parallels and connections, the major implications of the play escape me, even after reading about other people's interpretations of it. I'll have to wait and see how it plays into the larger story, because it is something that this entire book built up to.

Severian's psyche is fascinating, how his new experiences reinforce or tear down his old values and how he manipulates the narrative and makes excuses to make himself look better after committing both horrendous acts and actions of great compassion are some of the most interesting aspects of the novel. Overall, a great continuation that builds upon various aspects of the first book, expanding the world and lore, and delving deeper into Severian's character.
Profile Image for Gabi.
689 reviews117 followers
July 21, 2019
4.5 stars - cause I'm still (or even more so) grossed out by Severian's take on women. What a horrible character!

There is no magic. There is only knowledge, more or less hidden.

This sentence from the last chapter summarizes my take on the novels pretty well. Meanwhile I'm convinced that I'm not reading a Fantasy novel, but a cleverly staged SF novel. So while reading I try to put together all the bits and pieces of weird information in context of aliens, bioengineering, time travel machines and such. I have no idea where this all leads, but it is a hell lot of fun for readers who love guessing and solving puzzles.

Severian's emotional state seems even more perturbed than in the first novel. His spontaneous affidavits of loyalty and love seem to have no grounding in any facts, but feel like whims of the moment. Yet it is clear that he himself dearly believes everything he feels and remembers to be true. It is the reader's part to try to get some sense and order into his tale. And Gene Wolfe doesn't make this easy for us - no way.

We get more hints about the nature of Urth and its society and Severian's possible role in past and future, but all in all we are left with even more questions at the end of the second book.

Which means: Forget my meticulously planned reading schedule with Buddy Reads and on to the third book.
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