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, Amazon.co.uk
"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