Denver Science Fiction & Fantasy Book Club
The Shadow of the Torturer (1980)
Volume One of The Book of the New Sun
A tale set in a far future dying-earth
Timescape USA paperback
cover art by Don Maitz (left)
Gollancz UK Fantasy Masterworks paperback
The Book of the New Sun
Volume 1: Shadow and Claw
cover art by Jim Burns (right)
Gene Wolfe - Shadow of the Torturer
(Warning! Some spoilers)
This is a far future story told in first person narrative by Severian, a young man raised in the feared Torturer's Guild, also known as the Order of the Seekers for Truth and Penitence. Severian has a perfect memory which allows him to later recall the details of his life's adventures. The book reads like a detailed fantasy inspired by ancient Rome, but science fiction ideas are scattered within.
When Severian is an apprentice, he helps a powerful man, Vodalus, in a fight in the Citadel's graveyard. Later, a highborn woman, one of the Exulted, Chatelaine Thecla, becomes a client of the torturers because her sister fled with Vodalus. Severian delivers four books he fetched from the Archivist to Thecla in her cell. Thecla has requested that someone occasionally sit with her, and since she has seen Severian, she asks for him. Severian talks with Thecla and learns from both her and the books.
Soon after Severian becomes a journeyman, Thecla is tortured. Severian shows mercy by giving Thecla a knife, fully knowing that he is disobeying his guild. Master Palaemon sends Severian away to a town in the north that needs a carnifex (headsman), and gives him a sword named Terminus Est.
Severian travels through the sprawling city of Nessus. His blacker than black torturer's cloak terrifies people. An innkeeper puts Severian in a room with a several non-paying customers who are actors to scare them.
Severian goes to a rag shop to buy a cloak to cover his own. There he is challenged to a duel with a deadly flower called an avern. Agia, the shop owner's sister, offers to guide Severian. She gets them into a carriage race which ends with a crash into a cathedral's altar, after which a precious gem, The Claw of the Conciliator, goes missing. In the Botanic Gardens, where the averns grow, Severian drops his sword into a lake of preserved corpses, dives in after it, and is pulled out by a young woman named Dorcas.
Severian survives and wins the duel at the Sanguinary Field, despite treachery. He get unexpected help from an object hidden in his pack, the missing gem. His opponent flees, killing people in the crowd, and Agia departs. Severian is hired as a carnifex to carry out the sentence of death on his opponent from the duel.
Severian and Dorcas encounter the actors
Severian met earlier at the Inn, and join their group. Together
they travel north out the huge gate of the city.
Shadow of the Torturer is book one of four in the tightly connected The Book of the New Sun series.summary written by
The Claw of the Conciliator
paperback - 250 pages
The Sword of the Lictor
paperback - 254 pages
The Citadel of the Autarch
paperback - 324 pages
10 Wow! Don't miss it
8-9 Highly recommended
5-6 Mild recommendation
3-4 Take your chances
1-2 Below average; skip it
0 Get out the flamethrower!
U Unfinishable or unreadable
- Skipped or no rating given