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THE SHADOW OF THE TORTURER (THE BOOK OF THE NEW SUN) Paperback – Import, January 1, 1981

41 customer reviews

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The first volume of The Book of the New Sun. The Earth is old and the sun is dying. In the great Citadel of the City Imperishable, Severian - apprentice to the torturer's guild - betrays his oath. Exiled, he begins his phantasmagoric odyssey through the perilous world of the deep, distant future.


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Product Details

  • Series: The Book of the new sun
  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: LEGEND PAPERBACKS; New Edition edition (January 1, 1981)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099263203
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099263203
  • Product Dimensions: 6.9 x 4.3 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (41 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,576,949 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

52 of 53 people found the following review helpful By Viking on March 8, 2005
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Seriously: This is one of the great overlooked Fantasy/Sci-fi adventures of all time.

And to be honest, I hate even putting it into a genre category; it's just a damn good read.

After having read tons of sci-fi/fanasy in my youth, I had reached a point where I was embarrassed to read any more of the stuff; almost all of it was trite, Tolkien- or Arthur C. Clarke-derivative, and, frankly, just plain juvenile. It was as if being a Fantasy writer meant that your standard of writing quality didn't have to be as high as that of straight fiction, as long as your characters included a busty warrior girl and a talking dragon. Then I picked up Shadow of the Torturer...

With The New Sun series, Gene Wolfe did to Fantasy what William Gibson, Bruce Sterling and Neal Stephenson did to Sci-fi; raised the bar for the genre and told a story that adults could read without feeling embarrassed. This is an epic up there with Lord of the Rings and Dune. It's that good.

Be aware that the negative reviews here (and most of the luke-warm ones as well), miss the point entirely. The "made-up words" and "anachronisms" they mention, for example, make complete sense if you actually pay attention, and the people who call Gene Wolfe's writing "rambling and incoherent" simply aren't doing that; he's one of the smartest fiction writers alive today, just don't expect to be spoon-fed everything.

In short: This is actually literature (big word, I know...), not just another spin on the same recycled themes.

My only question is: why haven't more people read this?! (Not to compare the two, but it's criminal that a predictable teen sci-fi book like Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game has over 2000 reviews and this one has only 13)
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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Scott Casey on May 12, 2006
Format: Hardcover
On another forum I visit someone posted the New York Times list of the best American fiction of the last 25 years. Not surprisingly, none of it was F&SF. So far as that goes, none of the books listed were anything I'd ever be likely to read.

But as I reviewed the books that would make my best of the best list, the top choice is obvious. Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun, of which The Shadow of the Torturer is the first volume.

For anyone who enjoys craftsmenship, language, poetry, nuance, and irony, this is a book for you.

I'm astounded at the reviewers who have criticized the books for the very thing I love most about them: the use or archaic, rare, and invented words. Others complain about Wolfe's richness of detail, bemoaning the fact that it leads nowhere. I disagree. Everything ties together - it just requires some patience on the part of the reader to discover that.

This is not just some space opera romance that you can read while soaking in bath salts. This is literature that demands some sophistication from the reader. The New Sun quartet ranks with Dickens, Peake, Dostoevsky, and Hesse. It's not for everyone, but those who appreciate substance over butter popcorn will enjoy it.

My runners-up for best fiction of the last 25 years would probably be Connie Willis' The Doomsday Book and Tim Powers' The Annubis Gate.
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By John Bonavia VINE VOICE on June 9, 2005
Format: Mass Market Paperback
What an amazing saga of Earth ("Urth") perhaps millions of years into the future - the sun is weakening, there has been a major glaciation, but somewhere in the southern hemisphere exists a complex civilization, rich in hierarchy and tradition, and still using some of the ancient artefacts whose power source is almost inexhaustible. (In the top of the Matachin Tower - which we realize is actually a spaceship that has not moved for millenia - voices occasionally speak out, in forgotten tongues, to whomever is present, or to the other "towers". . .) But the residues of technology are secondary in interest to the wanderings of Severian, initially an apprentice in the order of Seekers After Truth and Penitence, commonly known as the Guild of the Torturers...

Inside the back cover of my copy, at one of my readings, I listed the dozens of words that Wolfe invents or modifies to suit his needs. . .many based on Latin or Greek, all with a phenomenal rightness to what they identify or - often - suggest. Badelaire, lansquenet, amchasphand, chrisos, orichalk, pinakothek, salpinx, ephor.. . . .And the tricky thing is that every now and then one of them is a real word . . did you recognise lansquenet and salpinx? Wonderful wordcraft.

Do read the four books of the series in order (this is the first). Otherwise you will certainly be confused, especially after Severian's encounter with the alzabo (the hideous animal that feeds on corpses and for a while thereafter posesses some of the dead person's ability and can mimic his/her speech: not a good voice to hear at your door in the middle of the night).
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Greg Hughes on November 23, 1999
Format: Paperback
This first volume of "The Book of the New Sun" establishes the setting of the overall story. It's a first person account told by Severian, who starts off as an apprentice torturor. He lives in the Matachin Tower with the Torturor's Guild in the city of Nessus. He is soon exiled for being merciful to one of his "clients" - a woman he had fallen in love with. He has to make a journey to the city of Thrax, where he will serve as the Lictor. "The Shadow of the Torturor" is the beginning of that journey.
This story is set in a future so distant that our own world is almost completely forgotten. All that remains of our civilization are a few artifacts and legends. To Severian and the other people of "Urth", our own world is as ancient and remote as the prehistoric age is to us. Urth is now an unbelievably old planet, circling a dying sun. It is littered with the remains of past civilizations. New plant and animal life exists of the strangest kinds. There are the relics of technology so advanced they look like magic.
What I find so appealing about this book is that Gene Wolfe succeeds in creating an alien world so ancient, fantastic and magical that you often forget it's really our own planet. The strange new people are distant descendents of us. Many of the book's influences come from Jack Vance's "The Dying Earth". When reading "The Shadow of the Torturor" and the other books in this series, you have to give it your complete attention to fully appreciate what is happening. Sometimes it's tedious, but overall it's rewarding. These books will challenge your observation.
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