Denver Science Fiction & Fantasy Book Club

Shadow of the Torturer USA cover 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
262 pages
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)
Book of the New Sun Vol 1 UK cover

From the back cover of the Timescape paperback:
       Severian was born into the ancient guild sworn to torture and kill on command.  His is a story of a time so many millions of years hence, that all present time is forgotten.
       It is a tale of a Torturer, fallen victim to love and made to wander through a world where magic and science are one.

From the back cover of the Gollancz UK paperback:
       ...Gene Wolfe's The Book of the New Sun is an extraordinary epic, set a million years in the future, on an Earth transformed in mysterious and wondrous ways.
       Severian is a torturer, exiled from his guild after falling in love with one of his victims, and now journeying to the distant city of Thrax, armed with his ancient executioner's sword, Terminus Est....

Read for group discussion on January 22, 2003

Amy's summary  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

Subsequent books in The Book of the New Sun series:
(book 5, a sequel written years later, The Urth of the New Sun, is not shown)
Claw of the Conciliator cover Sword of the Lictor cover Citadel of the Autarch cover
The Claw of the Conciliator
Volume 2

paperback - 250 pages
The Sword of the Lictor
Volume 3

paperback - 254 pages
The Citadel of the Autarch
Volume 4

paperback - 324 pages

How we each rated this book
Dan 5 Amy 9 stack of books 10   Wow! Don't miss it
8-9  Highly recommended
7    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
Cheri 7 Barb -
Aaron 8 Cynthia -
Jackie - Ron 9
Sara - Christine 7
Tina 8    

Gene Wolfe (1931-     ) is a US writer of novels, short fiction, poetry, and nonfiction.  Most of his works are science fiction or fantasy, but not all of them.

1973 Nebula Award for novella "The Death of Doctor Island"
1981 World Fantasy Award for novel The Shadow of the Torturer
1981 Nebula Award for novel The Claw of the Conciliator
1982 British SF Award for The Shadow of the Torturer
1983 August Derleth Award for novel The Sword of the Lictor
1989 World Fantasy Award for collection Storeys from the Old Hotel
1996 World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement

The Book of the New Sun series:
-- The Shadow of the Torturer (1980)
-- The Claw of the Conciliator (1981)
-- The Sword of the Lictor (1982)
-- The Citadel of the Autarch (1982)
plus later sequel...
-- The Urth of the New Sun (1987)

Omnibus editions:
books one and two are assembled as:
-- The Book of the New Sun, Volumes I and II (1983 UK)
-- Shadow & Claw: The First Half of the Book of the New Sun (2000)
books three and four are assembled as:
-- The Book of the New Sun, Volumes III and IV (1985 UK)
-- Sword & Citadel: The Second Half of the Book of the New Sun (2000)

Essays about and explanations of The Book of the New Sun are assembled in Castle of the Otter (1983), which is itself contained in Castle of Days (1992, collection).  Tales supposedly from The Book of Urth and Sky, the book carried by the protagonist Severian, were published in chapbooks The Boy who Hooked the Sun (1985), and Empires of Foliage and Flower (1987).

For serious fans there is Lexicon Urthus: A Dictionary for the Urth Cycle written by Michael Andre-Driussi.

The Book of the Long Sun series:
-- Nightside the Long Sun (1993)
-- Lake of the Long Sun (1994)
-- Caldé of the Long Sun (1994)
-- Exodus from the Long Sun (1996)
Book of the Long Sun omnibus editions: Litany of the Long Sun (1994, books 1 and 2), and Epiphany of the Long Sun (1997, books 3 and 4).

The Book of the Short Sun series (sequels to the Long Sun tetralogy):
-- On Blue's Waters (1999)
-- In Green's Jungles (2000)
-- Return to the Whorl (2001)

The Latro books, Greek historical fantasy:
-- Soldier of the Mist (1986)
-- Soldier of Arete (1989)
Latro in the Mist (2003) is an omnibus edition of these two books.

The Wizard Knight fantasy series:
-- The Knight (2004)
-- The Wizard (2004)

Other novels by Gene Wolfe:
Operation ARES (1970), SF
The Fifth Head of Cerberus (1972, fixup), three linked SF tales
Peace (1975), an contemporary fantasy / ghost novel
The Devil in a Forest (1976), a young adult historical
Pandora by Holly Hollander (1990), a non-SF mystery detective novel
Free Live Free (1984), mainstream-like, time-travel tale
There are Doors (1988), parallel world, metaphysical fantasy
Castleview (1990), Arthurian inspired fantasy

Gene Wolfe's short story, poetry, and non-fiction collections:
The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories and Other Stories (1980)
Gene Wolfe's Book of Days (1981)
The Wolfe Archipelago (1983, limited edition)
Castle of the Otter (1983), Book of the New Sun related essays
Bibliomen: Twenty Characters Waiting for a Book (1984 chapbook, expanded 1995)
Plan(e)t Engineering (1984, stories and poems)
For Rosemary (1988, poetry)
Storeys from the Old Hotel (1988 UK, 1992 USA), 34 stories
Endangered Species (1989), 36 stories
Letters Home (1991), Wolfe's letters to his mother while serving in the Korean War
Castle of Days (1992, fiction and non-fiction)
Young Wolfe (1993, limited edition), nine early stories
Strange Travelers (2000), 16 stories

A Walking Tour of the Shambles (2002, with Neil Gaiman) is a humorous dark fantasy tour guide to an imaginary Chicago neighborhood published for the 2002 World Horror convention.

Gene Wolfe: Shadow and Claw - an infinity plus review
The SF Site Featured Review: The Book of the New Sun Volume I
The SF Site Featured Review: The Urth of the New Sun
SFDG Notes on The Shadow of the Torturer

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