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The Shadow of the Torturer

(The Book of the New Sun #1)

3.80  ·  Rating details ·  22,617 ratings  ·  1,469 reviews
The Shadow of the Torturer is the first volume in the four-volume series, The Book of the New Sun. It is the tale of young Severian, an apprentice in the Guild of Torturers on the world called Urth, exiled for committing the ultimate sin of his profession - showing mercy toward his victim - and follows his subsequent journey out of his home city of Nessus.
Paperback, 262 pages
Published June 3rd 1984 by Pocket Books (first published May 1980)
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Diego Davila Nah, you don't really have to worry about it. Although the two tetralogies obviously occur in the same universe, there is no plot crossover.

Nah, you don't really have to worry about it. Although the two tetralogies obviously occur in the same universe, there is no plot crossover.

Nonetheless, I would highly recommend reading the Book of the New Sun. It is a singular series.(less)
Mark Boyle To paraphrase another answer I have provided with regard to this novel, if I were to assign an MPAA or BBFC rating to this book and its sequels, I wou…moreTo paraphrase another answer I have provided with regard to this novel, if I were to assign an MPAA or BBFC rating to this book and its sequels, I would hazard a guess at PG-13. The book and its sequels contain violence, sometimes explicit, but never dwelt on in prurient detail. There is some sex (not explicit) and certain dark themes are touched upon, including cannibalism and, in one of the subsequent volumes, an instance of what is probably rape. Having said that, none of these themes seem to have been introduced merely for the author's self-gratification and there are certainly far more explicit titles in the "YA" genre. I hope that this response will be of use to you.(less)

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J.G. Keely
Apr 01, 2010 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
Mark Lawrence
RIP Gene Wolfe.

For 38 years I was under the belief that I had read this book and just couldn't remember much about it.

I got it from my school library in 1980. I know that much.

I am now sure that this is the first time I've read the book and that back in 1980 I read maybe 10% of it, reaching the first horrific if rather dry (and all the more horrible for that) torture scene (basically the only memory I have of the book). I have always found torture, both in real life and in fiction, deeply distur
Jun 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A dark jewel.

Reminiscent of Ursula Le Guin, Robert Silverberg and Jack Vance, Gene Wolfe’s 1980 high fantasy begins a four book series about Severian, an apprentice in the Guild of Torturers who shows mercy and is exiled as an executioner.

And like most fantasies, it’s about a lot more too. Wolfe explores themes of honor, guild loyalty and resurrection / rebirth. This can also be seen as a religious allegory, though his tone is somber and the redemption is subtle and hidden in his intricate writi
Kevin Kelsey
First off, the setting is awesome. Secondly, there are sentences, paragraphs, and whole sections of this book that are gorgeously written. Exquisitely crafted prose.

The first half of the book is entirely enjoyable, and builds up a world (Urth) that is entirely unique among any fiction I've come across. The second half spends some time meandering. There are enough mysteries here to keep me very interested in finishing the series, because I really need to know what's going on here. It's intriguing
aPriL does feral sometimes
The title of this book really turned me away from reading this book for decades. However, it was selected as a club read so I decided to give it a try.

There are a few torture scenes and the violence is graphic but minimal. Overall, it is a pseudo-myth story, so the tone is dreamlike, and primarily a meditation on the pain of living as a human being rather than an adventure or coming-of-age story. The language is beautiful, poetic; however it's also a touch self-conscious. Whatever. The author d
Vit Babenco
Apr 18, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Shadow of the Torturer is like a Preraphaelite canvas – the ancient perishing world, painted in unbelievably vivid but at the same time sepulchral colours, is washed in the sanguine rays of a long fatal sundown.
But Gene Wolfe limns his painting with words:
The necropolis has never seemed a city of death to me; I know its purple roses (which other people think so hideous) shelter hundreds of small animals and birds. The executions I have seen performed and have performed myself so often are no
Bill Kerwin
Jun 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing

The first volume of The Book of the New Sun, The Shadow of the Torturer, is a traditional picaresque fantasy, in which a young man, going forth to seek his fortune, gains mentors, weapons, magic jewels, and companions along the way. But this is a picaresque fantasy with a difference, for our hero Severian is no wide-eyed country boy from the shire, but an apprentice torturer, thoroughly schooled in his trade. He speaks of his young life as a thing long passed, and relates his adventures carefull
Jul 22, 2012 rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: masochists, literary snobs, Mievillites
I tried. Fuck it.

That was my original review, but not much to go on. Then again, if I took up 200 pages with flowery words of why this booked suck, I'd be doing the same thing the author of this piece of shit did.

The Torture of the Shadower:

Flowery prose? Yes. Gene Wolfe has it. He's a talented writer that can make a pretty sentence. I was often impressed with his word usage and some of the sentences were really enjoyable to read.

That said, you don't have to construct pretty sentences to impress
Oct 10, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016, fantasy
I have no idea what to say about this book. I don't even know what I thought of it.

I've heard that it's supposed to be difficult to read. I disagree.

I've heard that the writing is outstandingly beautiful. I disagree.

And so neither my positive nor my negative expectation was met. Moreover, the story was a mess, the main character was a mess and the setting was a mess. Somehow it was still good. The end.

Nick Borrelli
Sep 19, 2016 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
Spencer Orey
Nov 14, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Cool old school fantasy. Great start, with a chill introduction to this nightmare world of professional torturers. The middle is meandering, in an old school way, with a focus on building all the details of Urth instead of story or character. But hey it sure is a fully realized world, in an extreme amount of detail. Things come back together a bit by the end, but I imagine since this is the start of 4 novels, things actually come together better later on. This one seems like the full vision of t ...more
I struggled through this book and spent most of it waiting for the end to redeem it. But then it had no end! It just stopped. If you've read any of my other reviews you may know that books that don't have proper endings are a major pet peeve of mine. I was extra annoyed this time because I'd been told that the beauty of this series lies in the twists and turns brilliantly laid out by Wolfe. I was sorely disappointed.

I found this book very difficult to read. I formed no attachment to the protagon
Mar 26, 2013 rated it really liked it
I was awash in strange expectations and assumptions before picking up this book, and after coming out the other side, I'm happy to say that this thoughtful novel pleased me.

It didn't wow me, but it certainly pleased me. I was very worried it wouldn't because the period of the late seventies and early eighties was a time of Fantasy that I just never really liked.

What? But this novel is SF!

Yes it is, and I loved all the old incorporation of alien life, our dying sun, quantum physics extrapolatio
L.S. Popovich
Shadow of the Torturer demands active participation from the reader. It is considered the beginning of Wolfe's crowning achievement, The Book of the New Sun. The reading experience is both challenging and rewarding, but should not be intimidating. Close reading does not have to be unpleasant reading. The manner of the storytelling matches the tale being told. Wolfe avoids info dumps. And thus the glimpse we perceive of his world is merely that, a galaxy peeped through a narrow aperture.

In a far
5.0 stars. Along with The Dying Earth by Jack Vance, the book that set the standard for the "science fantasy" epic. The Book of the New Sun Tetralogy is one of the great achievements in science fiction and is a MUST READ for fans of the genre. HIGHEST POSSIBLE RECOMMENDATION!!!

Winner: World Fantasy Award for Best Novel (1981)
Winner: Britsh Science Fiction Award for Best Novel (1982)
Nominee: Nebula Award for Best Science Fiction Novel (1981)
Nominee: John W. Campbell Award for Best Science Fictio
Jan 24, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fantasy
Slow and not very uneventful book especially in middle part but but it's very well written so I didn't find it boring at any point. ...more
Mar 16, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2016
I had no idea what to expect from this book, but I wanted to read outside my normal comfort zone in order to broaden my horizons. (Thanks, John, for the suggestion!) Well, I must say that I was pleasantly surprised. I immediately connected with both the style of writing and how the narrator presents the story as reflecting back upon his life and the choices he made or did not make. I also loved the ancient feeling of this world, although (view spoiler) ...more
Kat  Hooper
Aug 13, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: audiobook
ORIGINALLY POSTED AT Fantasy Literature.

For those of you enjoy audiobooks, this is the perfect time to finally read (or to re-read) Gene Wolfe's The Shadow of the Torturer. Audible Frontiers recently put it on audio and the excellent Jonathan Davis is the reader.

The Shadow of the Torturer introduces Severian, an orphan who grew up in the torturer's guild. Severian is now sitting on a throne, but in this first installment of The Book of the New Sun, he tells us of key events in his boyhood and yo
Feb 25, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 100-mccaffery, 2012
I am almost anti-fantasy. I find most derivative at best and banal to the extreme. Wolfe's first book in his famous The Book of the New Sun tetralogy, however, is genre fiction at its finest. Original, difficult and well-crafted, it is easy to see how Wolfe is regarded as a writer's writer. ...more
Oct 31, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fantasy
I stumbled over Gene Wolfe and the Book of the New Sun via Neil Gaiman, who was praising it highly.

I can definitely see why. The prose is beautiful. Gene Wolfe has a wonderful way with words. It's almost like reading poetry.

Not much happens in this first of four books, but it was an easy read, immersive and beautiful. I connected with the narrator almost immediately and can't wait to find out what happens to Severian the Torturer.
Apr 17, 2012 rated it really liked it
I'm really drawn to decadent, crumbling civilisations in literature, especially those of the far distant future. Those who know my tastes know how much I love Jack Vance's "Dying Earth" books, set in a world where the days of the starfaring and ambitious aims of humanity have long dwindled away and in fact the sun itself has ceased to be the warming, welcome beacon it once was but has grown feeble and weak over millions of years. Let's ignore the fact that human life would probably have long exp ...more
Mike (the Paladin)
Okay...what do I say about this book?

I read it first back in the '70s and found that I have very little memory of it. Possibly it was at a time when things were a bit stressful...the '70s were like that. Anyway, I decided to reread it.

The Shadow of the Torturer is a novel where we are dropped into the middle of a world and get to know it as we go, sort of like "on the job training". I won't give away details as..."what would be the point of learning things as you go" if I spill the beans? What I
Juho Pohjalainen
May 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is my second time tackling this series of books. The first time around was also my introduction to the author, and I had no idea what to expect. The second time, after also having read several other works of his... I have all the pieces, but I'm still pretty stumped. Perhaps it is a time to admit that I am a fool.

With that said, it takes a special kind of an author to make you want to keep reading his works, and enjoy them immensely, even when you understand almost nothing of what's actuall
May 02, 2010 rated it it was amazing
After suffering through the verbal flagellation of The Name of the Wind, I was really jonesing for some literary fantasy, if such a thing existed. A friend at work (where people ought to know about such things) tipped me off to Gene Wolf and told me to start here.

Gene Wolfe is indeed a literary author: it's clear that significant thought was given to the characters, story arc, linguistic style, and thematic elements before he began writing this four-part story. It's a post-historic future-histor
Dec 18, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: read-in-2017
I don't even know whether I liked this one or not.

The story is weird and the MC's a mess. The prose is not difficult to read but dense. The writing is beautiful at times but tedious at others.

From a detailed desription of a building or a landscape the author takes you smack right into an equally exquisitely detailed description of say the technique of a proper "socking" (method of torture not article of clothing) or the correct way to suture a stump. Perhaps it is because of the author's partic
Dec 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
As much as I find myself confounded by Wolfe’s method (or is it madness?) in writing I always find myself coming back to his works and finding in them enjoyment that is somewhat unique. Upon reflection I think that perhaps “enjoyment” is not quite the right word, though I am struggling to find the mot juste whatever it may be. Perhaps satisfaction? (Admittedly mixed with a fair measure of frustration.) Anyway…my point is that for however difficult I may find Wolfe, and however unfriendly to the ...more
Nov 15, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2016
3.5 for personal enjoyment, 4.5 for depth of writing and research. While constantly impressed with the references and allusions littered through the story and the resonance of the world Wolfe builds, the book in the end failed to engage my emotions alongside my brain.
Kevin Lopez (on sabbatical)
Nov 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: sf-read
This is the first book in Gene Wolfe’s magnum opus, the tetralogy collectively known as The Book of the New Sun, which is quite possibly the best science fiction/science fantasy series I’ve ever read, full stop. Stunning, brilliant, poetic, archaic, musical, mystical: Wolfe's masterpiece is the absolute pinnacle of ambitious speculative fiction. While the scope of the story is of a scale that can at times defy comprehension, it always remains, at its core, quintessentially human. Like the greate ...more
Mattia Ravasi
Apr 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Video review

Magnificent worldbuilding and some brilliant reflections on the nature of narrative, symbols, and meaning-making justify the obscure lexicon, baroque style, and slow pace. Know what you're getting into - this is heavy fantasy and will require lots of work on your part to even make sense - but to the right kind of reader, it's the book of a lifetime.
Oct 09, 2014 rated it it was ok
Wow... this book took me a VERY long time to plod my way slowly through and it was certainly not an easy read. This is regarded by many great writers and readers to be a fantastic SF book and the basis for a lot of modern interpretations and influences in the genre, for me, it was a bit of a messy and convoluted story regarding a torturer who wouldn't stop rambling.

Whilst I can certainly appreciate aspects of this writing, for example Gene has a wonderfully lyrical prose which makes Death sound
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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 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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