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Shadow & Claw: The First Half of 'The Book of the New Sun' Paperback – October 15, 1994

348 customer reviews
Book 1 of 4 in the New Sun Series

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Editorial Reviews Review

One of the most acclaimed "science fantasies" ever, Gene Wolfe's The Book of the New Sun is a long, magical novel in four volumes. Shadow & Claw contains the first two: The Shadow of the Torturer and The Claw of the Conciliator, which respectively won the World Fantasy and Nebula Awards.

This is the first-person narrative of Severian, a lowly apprentice torturer blessed and cursed with a photographic memory, whose travels lead him through the marvels of far-future Urth, and who--as revealed near the beginning--eventually becomes his land's sole ruler or Autarch. On the surface it's a colorful story with all the classic ingredients: growing up, adventure, sex, betrayal, murder, exile, battle, monsters, and mysteries to be solved. (Only well into book 2 do we realize what saved Severian's life in chapter 1.) For lovers of literary allusions, they are plenty here: a Dickensian cemetery scene, a torture-engine from Kafka, a wonderful library out of Borges, and familiar fables changed by eons of retelling. Wolfe evokes a chilly sense of time's vastness, with an age-old, much-restored painting of a golden-visored "knight," really an astronaut standing on the moon, and an ancient citadel of metal towers, actually grounded spacecraft. Even the sun is senile and dying, and so Urth needs a new sun.

The Book of the New Sun is almost heartbreakingly good, full of riches and subtleties that improve with each rereading. It is Gene Wolfe's masterpiece. --David Langford,


The Book of the New Sun establishes [Wolfe's] pre-eminence, pure and simple....The Book of the New Sun contains elements of Spenserian allegory, Swiftian satire, Dickensian social consciousness and Wagnerian mythology. Wolfe creates a truly alien social order that the reader comes to experience from within...once into it, there is no stopping.” ―The New York Times Book Review

“Magic stuff...a masterpiece...the best science fiction I've read in years!” ―Ursula K. Le Guin

“Arguably the best piece of literature American science fiction has yet produced.” ―Chicago Sun-Times

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Orb Books; 5th edition (October 15, 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312890176
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312890179
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 1.1 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (348 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #25,475 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Gene Wolfe is winner of the World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement, and many other awards. In 2007, he was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame. He lives in Barrington, Illinois.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

377 of 401 people found the following review helpful By Sean Hanley on May 24, 2001
Format: Paperback
I've read some of the reader reviews of "Shadow and Claw" and come to the conclusion that the book needs an introduction. Many of the negative reviews, I think, come from readers who weren't familiar with Gene Wolfe's writing style, which is understandable. So let me say for Wolfe that you cannot by any means read "The Book of the New Sun" the way you would ordinarily read a book. This mostly stems from the fact that the book is supposed to be an autobiography, and the writer, Severian, really can't be trusted to describe things accurately. A pretty good example would be the first woman Severian becomes interested in, Agia. He tells us that she was the most unattractive woman he has ever been attracted to. Fine, but the way that he becomes somewhat obsessed with her at a glance would suggest otherwise, and the way she treats him would account for his recalling her as being ugly. This is a minor example, to be sure, because it is a matter of Severian's perspective. There were other times in the book that I got the impression that Severian was telling flat-out lies. It's confusing, but it makes the book extremely interesting to read, simply because you are able to figure out much of what actually happened. Another thing to keep in mind, as somebody said in a quote on Wolfe's "The Fifth Head of Cerberus," (I forget who, and don't really care to find out, mostly because I'm lazy) is that Wolfe is "a master of the casual revelation." Which is to say that Severian will out of nowhere mention some vital piece of information, apparently assuming that we already knew about it. And we probably would know were we from his world, as he assumes we are.Read more ›
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201 of 221 people found the following review helpful By Jean-Francois Virey on December 15, 2001
Format: Paperback
Like thousands of teenagers, I came of age with *The Lord of the Rings*. The rather ugly Bakshi movie was the first one I went to see without my parents, and the novel was virtually the first one I ever read that was not a children's book, except for Jules Verne's *Mysterious Island*. Just like many Tolkien fans, I became a lifelong devotee of the fantasy genre, and explored the more promising of the other Middle-Earths, from Lankhmar to the Dark Shore, Lyonesse, Majipoor, Amber, Earthsea and the world of the Hyborean Age.
But of all the fantasy series I ever read, the only that ever compared to Tolkien's masterpiece in my opinion was Gene Wolfe's *New Urth* tetralogy. The others were fun, imaginative, full of action and adventure, but they either failed to maintain throughout the literary and spiritual power I had found in *The Lord of the Rings* or to equal the richness of its world-building.
Interestingly enough, however different Tolkien's and Wolfe's epics might be, they share two profound similarities. First, both were written by Catholics and infused with their author's faith. With Tolkien, all the trappings of religion are evacuated from the world itself while the story is saturated with religious symbolism. With Wolfe, on the contrary, Christianity is still very present but transformed, as if through layers and layers of rewriting, into a distant shadow of itself. There is only one God, Pancreator or Panjudicator ; an almost legendary «Conciliator» walked the earth eons ago and is still venerated by the order of the Pelerines ; and priests, rituals, sacred items and guilds abound, as in the Golden Age of Christianity.
The other similarity between the two sagas is the spiritual nature of their ultimate magical item.
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42 of 45 people found the following review helpful By john lollard on March 5, 2013
Format: Paperback
My goal is to explain how the book works so that potential readers can better decide if it'd be a book they'd enjoy or not. This review is for people who have not bought or read the book and are considering doing so, and hopefully will be helpful to them. I'm not trying to criticize the author or fans of his work or change any minds.

If, reading this review, you think the book sounds like your cup of tea, then great! I'm glad to have helped you in that regard. If you already read it and dislike my disparaging of it, surely you'll at least admit my descriptions are factually accurate.

There are no spoilers below.

According to the appendix of the first book, the author considers this book a translation of a manuscript written in a language that will not exist until far in the future. As such, the author had to make "translation decisions" about certain words used in the "original manuscript" that do not exist in English; for many of these, he chose to use archaic and latinate words that are not in common use. Due to this, most reviewers describe the language as rich and florid, or heavy-handed and pretentious; really, it's fairly formal standard American English, at about what you'd find in a textbook, but with occasional vocabulary words from Shakespeare thrown in. I actually really enjoyed the prose, and gave it an extra star for the quality of it. If you know what these words mean, or -what is more likely- if you look them up, then it's not that difficult to read. At least, not in a mechanical sense.

However, this book is hard to read in several other senses.

The book is supposed to be a sort of memoir written by the main character, Severian, in first person.
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