The Shadow of the Torturer by Gene Wolfe. Audible Frontiers recently put it on audio and the excellent Jonathan Davis is the reader. 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 young adulthood. Much of the power of this novel comes from the sense that there is world-building and symbolism on a massive scale here, but that explanations and revelations for the reader would just cheapen it and remove the pleasure that comes from the experience of discovery. In addition to being unique in style, The Shadow of the Torturer is a gorgeous piece of work: passionate storytelling heart-wrenching in places , fascinating insights into nature and the human condition, beautiful prose:. Perhaps when night closes our eyes there is less order than we believe.
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The Shadow of the Torturer by Gene Wolfe. Audible Frontiers recently put it on audio and the excellent Jonathan Davis is the reader. 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 young adulthood. Much of the power of this novel comes from the sense that there is world-building and symbolism on a massive scale here, but that explanations and revelations for the reader would just cheapen it and remove the pleasure that comes from the experience of discovery.
In addition to being unique in style, The Shadow of the Torturer is a gorgeous piece of work: passionate storytelling heart-wrenching in places , fascinating insights into nature and the human condition, beautiful prose:. Perhaps when night closes our eyes there is less order than we believe. Perhaps, indeed, it is this lack of order we perceive as darkness, a randomization of the waves of energy like a sea , the fields of energy like a farm that appear to our deluded eyes — set by light in an order of which they themselves are incapable — to be the real world.
I enjoyed every moment of The Shadow of the Torturer. This story is deeply emotional and introspective and, as usual, Mr. At the same time, its baroque language, ambiguous plot, unreliable narrator, and depth of symbolism are likely to discourage most casual readers. Therefore, new readers need to dedicate themselves to unraveling the many layers of plot, religious symbolism, literary references, and narrative sleight-of-hand. They also need to understand that it is essentially a single integrated work, so reading individual volumes is not enough to render judgement.
You need to read all four volumes to appreciate what Gene Wolfe has painstakingly crafted. If you do so, you will be rewarded richly indeed. He is the ideal narrator for a work this ambitious, as he tackles the baroque story with gravitas, confidence, and enthusiasm.
Therefore, it would be presumptuous of me to try to analyze his magnum opus in a brief review such as this. Rather, I will just touch on the most important themes of the book and dispense with a discussion of plot details, which you can discover on your own. He recalls to the reader his complex path from lowly apprentice to the Autarch of the Commonwealth, the most powerful ruler on far-future Urth.
This world lies millions of years in the future, to the point that our own world is no longer even a memory. It is a baroque fantasy world filled with mysterious terms such as archon, carnifex, cataphract, chalcedony, fuligin, hipparch, lazaret, monomachy, optimate, pelerine, psychopomp, quaesitor, thaumaturge, and uhlan.
None of these terms are coined by Wolfe, but rather reflect his erudite love of obscure and archaic terms. What they all share is an interest in the fate of Severian, for though he does understand this himself for much of his journey, he is destined to not only become Autarch but to serve as the representative to the stars to determine if the dying red sun of Urth is worthy of being renewed in both a symbolic and literal sense, ushering in a New Sun and renewed era of humanity. It is an outcome that is constantly alluded to but never fully explained, though Wolfe later explored this is more detail while still retaining much mystery in a companion coda called The Urth of the New Sun The religious symbolism of the story is both explicit and complicated.
And yet throughout the story, Severian himself is a naive and conflicted character, one who struggles first to set aside his training as a torturer and executioner, and later as a man fighting to understand his role as a possible bringer of redemption and resurrection to a corrupt and dying world. This goes far beyond a Christian allegory such as C. This object seems capable of bringing the dead back to life and healing fatal wounds when Severian wields it, and is associated with the Conciliator, a figure of the ancient past who is both Christ-like and may also have extra-terrestrial origins.
One could write a dissertation on interpreting the meanings of these stories as they relate to the overall themes of the book, and this effort is far beyond me, but Marc Aramini does discuss the implications of a number these stories in his book Between Light and Shadow: An Exploration of the Fiction of Gene Wolfe, to , including Dr.
This literary device is equally vital to understanding the layers of meaning in his book Peace. The story is further complicated by the roles of Abaia, Erebus, and their servants the undines, underwater beings of great power that seem intent on conquering humanity, but at the same time provide aid to Severian at times and may even benefit from the inundation of Urth if Severian is to succeed in bringing the New Sun.
We also have the even more inscrutable role of the Hierodules, alien beings from other worlds that reside on Urth and also take a keen interest in Severian and his path to becoming the Autarch. Despite their implied powers, they sometimes seem to indicate that they serve him, but this in never made entirely clear.
They appear to have a connection with the current Autarch, but it is not apparent whether they favor Severian over his rule. Finally, there is the ambiguous role of the reigning Autarch himself, and his mysterious advisor Father Inire.
They obviously wield great power, and if they were to decide Severian were a threat to them they could easily have him killed. Yet they instead appear in various guises in his adventures, never clearly his ally or enemy, always with opaque intentions and tantalizing comments. Father Inire in particular seems to control the power to travel between the stars via the sinister power of mirrors and labyrinths an obvious nod to Jorge Luis Borges , but does not demonstrate to what end he might use them.
There are layers of meaning that remain obscure even after multiple readings, but it is clear that Wolfe has crafted a masterpiece that is worth the attempts to conquer it, a literary Mt. Everest that every serious reader in the genre will be drawn to again and again, and there is much to be gained in each attempt, whether the peak is attained or not. The Book of the New Sun — Omnibus editions available. The Book of the Long Sun — Publisher: In a decrepit school, children are taught to be soothsayers by Patera Silk, an innocent hero.
Silk finds that he is a powerful sorcerer, and magic is in the air. Horn, the narrator of the earlier work, now tells his own story. Though life is hard on the newly settled planet of Blue, Horn and his family have made a decent life for themselves. But Horn is the only one who can locate the great leader Silk, and convince him to return to Blue and lead them all to prosperity. Horn sets sail, in a small boat, on a long and difficult quest across the planet Blue in search of the now legendary Patera Silk.
January 16th, When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Despite growing up in beautiful Hawaii, he spent most of his time reading as many SFF books as possible.
Banks , N. Jemisin , J. Clarke , H. Wells , Olaf Stapledon , J. Tolkien , Mervyn Peake , etc. Great review, Kat! They could probably do a study on me and retire. Time for a re-visit, I think. Thanks for the nudge.
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We Love This! Five Star SFF! Best of the Years Fun! In addition to being unique in style, The Shadow of the Torturer is a gorgeous piece of work: passionate storytelling heart-wrenching in places , fascinating insights into nature and the human condition, beautiful prose: Perhaps when night closes our eyes there is less order than we believe. If you plan to buy this book, you can support FanLit by clicking on the book cover above and buying it and anything else at Amazon.
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Sci-Fi’s Difficult Genius
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The Shadow of the Torturer: SFF’s greatest and most challenging epic
It relates the story of Severian , an apprentice Seeker for Truth and Penitence the guild of torturers , from his youth through his expulsion from the guild and subsequent journey out of his home city of Nessus. Severian , an apprentice in the Torturers' Guild, barely survives a swim in the River Gyoll. On his way back to the Citadel, Severian and several other apprentices sneak into a necropolis where Severian encounters Vodalus, a legendary revolutionary. Vodalus, along with two others, including a woman named Thea, are robbing a grave. Vodalus and his companions are confronted by volunteer guards. Severian saves Vodalus's life, earning his trust and the reward of a single coin. Shortly before Severian is elevated to journeyman he encounters and falls in love with Thecla, a beautiful aristocratic prisoner.
The Shadow of the Torturer (1980) by Gene Wolfe
Having suffered an injury during the Battle of Plataea, a Greco-Persian War skirmish, Latro has no memory of his past. Latro has to carefully choose what he is going to write down: he is limited by time, because when he sleeps he loses his memory again, and by the medium, because there is only so much papyrus. Instead, Latro might reveal only the truth that matters. What will I want to know?
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