The Shadow of the Torturer / Gene Wolfe

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And after that overlong discussion about Slow River, I’m going to follow it up with a relatively short discussion of Gene Wolfe’s classic The Shadow of the Torturer, the first in his Book of the New Sun series. I’ve seen a few people call it a classic. I don’t get it. Sure, it doesn’t have all of the items I hate about fantasy but it has a few.

It’s dour, lifeless and ponderous. Not just the setting and characters. Also the plot and language.

It features an apparently lowly orphan who is destined to rise to a throne.

The protagonist starts on a journey, becomes part of a band of misfits, and participates in unconnected episodic adventures along the way.

At least it doesn’t have any magic. The book sort of hints at the fact that society has devolved from one that had inter-planetary travel and has lost contact with fellow worlds. Some of the scenery implies a technological past. See, it’s science fiction in fantasy guise! It needs far more of a selling point than this.

Other blogged reviews:

Title: The Shadow of the Torturer
Author: Gene Wolfe
Series: The Book of the New Sun; 1
Imprint / publisher: Pocket Books / Simon & Schuster
Format: Mass market paperback
Length: 262 p.
Publication date: May 1981
ISBN-10: 0-671-54066-1

Categories: Book Reviews.

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5 Responses

  1. Aw. I loved this book and its clever use of language.

  2. > It’s dour, lifeless and ponderous. Not just the setting and characters. Also the plot and language.

    The language is lifeless?

    Well. _de gustibus, non disputandum est_.

  3. Using big words doesn’t necessarily give life to writing. Usually quite the opposite.

  4. I found it disjointed and dreamlike, which I sort of liked for a bit, but the style overcame the substance for me at some point and it turned into a slog.

  5. I have heard that all of the words Wolfe used are actual words, often ones that are obscure or archaic, but still in a dictionary somewhere.

    One part of the story I never figure out was Severian’s memory. He claims to have a perfect memory, but at several points when he is narrating he seems to “accidentally” contradict himself. Did you notice that? If not, you might be missing some of the depth in the story.

    Oh, and of course there’s all the christian allegory…