- File Size: 767 KB
- Print Length: 417 pages
- Publisher: Orb Books; 5th ed. edition (October 15, 1994)
- Publication Date: October 15, 1994
- Sold by: Macmillan
- Language: English
- ASIN: B008S0E77Q
- Text-to-Speech: Enabled
- Word Wise: Enabled
- Lending: Not Enabled
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #59,658 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Resurrection and Death
It is possible I already had some presentiment of my future. The locked and rusted gate that stood before us, with wisps of river fog threading its spikes like the mountain paths, remains in my mind now as the symbol of my exile. That is why I have begun this account of it with the aftermath of our swim, in which I, the torturer’s apprentice Severian, had so nearly drowned.
“The guard has gone.” Thus my friend Roche spoke to Drotte, who had already seen it for himself.
Doubtfully, the boy Eata suggested that we go around. A lift of his thin, freckled arm indicated the thousands of paces of wall stretching across the slum and sweeping up the hill until at last they met the high curtain wall of the Citadel. It was a walk I would take, much later.
“And try to get through the barbican without a safe-conduct? They’d send to Master Gurloes.”
“But why would the guard leave?”
“It doesn’t matter.” Drotte rattled the gate. “Eata, see if you can slip between the bars.”
Drotte was our captain, and Eata put an arm and a leg through the iron palings, but it was immediately clear that there was no hope of his getting his body to follow.
“Someone’s coming,“ Roche whispered. Drotte jerked Eata out.
I looked down the street. Lanterns swung there among the fog-muffled sounds of feet and voices. I would have hidden, but Roche held me, saying, “Wait, I see pikes.”
“Do you think it’s the guard returning?”
He shook his head. “Too many.”
“A dozen men at least,“ Drotte said.
Still wet from Gyoll we waited. In the recesses of my mind we stand shivering there even now. Just as all that appears imperishable tends toward its own destruction, those moments that at the time seem the most fleeting recreate themselves--not only in my memory (which in the final accounting loses nothing) but in the throbbing of my heart and the prickling of my hair, making themselves new just as our Commonwealth reconstitutes itself each morning in the shrill tones of its own clarions.
The men had no armor, as I could soon see by the sickly yellow light of the lanterns; but they had pikes, as Drotte had said, and staves and hatchets. Their leader wore a long, double-edged knife in his belt. What interested me more was the massive key threaded on a cord around his neck; it looked as if it might fit the lock of the gate.
Little Eata fidgeted with nervousness, and the leader saw us and lifted his lantern over his head. “We’re waiting to get in, goodman,“ Drotte called. He was the taller, but he made his dark face humble and respectful.
“Not until dawn,“ the leader said gruffly. “You young fellows had better get home.”
“Goodman, the guard was supposed to let us in, but he’s not here.”
“You won’t be getting in tonight.” The leader put his hand on the hilt of his knife before taking a step closer. For a moment I was afraid he knew who we were.
Drotte moved away, and the rest of us stayed behind him. “Who are you, goodman? You’re not soldiers.”
“We’re the volunteers,“ one of the others said. “We come to protect our own dead.”
“Then you can let us in.”
The leader had turned away. “We let no one inside but ourselves.” His key squealed in the lock, and the gate creaked back. Before anyone could stop him Eata darted through. Someone cursed, and the leader and two others sprinted after Eata, but he was too fleet for them. We saw his tow-colored hair and patched shirt zigzag among the sunken graves of paupers, then disappear in the thicket of statuary higher up. Drotte tried to pursue him, but two men grabbed his arms.
“We have to find him. We won’t rob you of your dead.”
“Why do you want to go in, then?” one volunteer asked.
“To gather herbs,“ Drotte told him. “We are physicians’ gallipots. Don’t you want the sick healed?”
The volunteer stared at him. The man with the key had dropped his lantern when he ran after Eata, and there were only two left. In their dim light the volunteer looked stupid and innocent; I suppose he was a laborer of some kind.
Drotte continued, “You must know that for certain simples to attain their highest virtues they must be pulled from grave soil by moonlight. It will frost soon and kill everything, but our masters require supplies for the winter. The three of them arranged for us to enter tonight, and I borrowed that lad from his father to help me.”
“You don’t have anything to put simples in.”
I still admire Drotte for what he did next. He said, “We are to bind them in sheaves to dry,“ and without the least hesitation drew a length of common string from his pocket.
“I see,“ the volunteer said. It was plain he did not. Roche and I edged nearer the gate.
Drotte actually stepped back from it. “If you won’t let us gather the herbs, we’d better go. I don’t think we could ever find that boy in there now.”
“No you don’t. We have to get him out.”
“All right,“ Drotte said reluctantly, and we stepped through, the volunteers following. Certain mystes aver that the real world has been constructed by the human mind, since our ways are governed by the artificial categories into which we place essentially undifferentiated things, things weaker than our words for them. I understood the principle intuitively that night as I heard the last volunteer swing the gate closed behind us.
A man who had not spoken before said, “I’m going to watch over my mother. We’ve wasted too much time already. They could have her a league off by now.”
Several of the others muttered agreement, and the group began to scatter, one lantern moving to the left and the other to the right. We went up the center path (the one we always took in returning to the fallen section of the Citadel wall) with the remaining volunteers.
It is my nature, my joy and my curse, to forget nothing. Every rattling chain and whistling wind, every sight, smell, and taste, remains changeless in my mind, and though I know it is not so with everyone, I cannot imagine what it can mean to be otherwise, as if one had slept when in fact an experience is merely remote. Those few steps we took upon the whited path rise before me now: It was cold and growing colder; we had no light, and fog had begun to roll in from Gyoll in earnest. A few birds had come to roost in the pines and cypresses, and flapped uneasily from tree to tree. I remember the feel of my own hands as I rubbed my arms, and the lantern bobbing among the steles some distance off, and how the fog brought out the smell of the river water in my shirt, and the pungency of the new-turned earth. I had almost died that day, choking in the netted roots; the night was to mark the beginning of my manhood.
There was a shot, a thing I had never seen before, the bolt of violet energy splitting the darkness like a wedge, so that it closed with a thunderclap. Somewhere a monument fell with a crash. Silence then…in which everything around me seemed to dissolve. We began to run. Men were shouting, far off. I heard the ring of steel on stone, as if someone had struck one of the grave markers with a badelaire. I dashed along a path that was (or at least then seemed) completely unfamiliar, a ribbon of broken bone just wide enough for two to walk abreast that wound down into a little dale. In the fog I could see nothing but the dark bulk of the memorials to either side. Then, as suddenly as if it had been snatched away, the path was no longer beneath my feet--I suppose I must have failed to notice some turning. I swerved to dodge an oblesque that appeared to shoot up before me, and collided full tilt with a man in a black coat.
He was solid as a tree; the impact took me off my feet and knocked my breath away. I heard him muttering execrations, then a whispering sound as he swung some weapon. Another voice called, “What was that?”
“Somebody ran into me. Gone now, whoever he was.”
I lay still.
A woman said, “Open the lamp.” Her voice was like a dove’s call, but there was urgency in it.
The man I had run against answered, “They would be on us like a pack of dholes, Madame.”
“They will be soon in any case--Vodalus fired. You must have heard it.”
“Be more likely to keep them off.”
In an accent I was too inexperienced to recognize as an exultant’s, the man who had spoken first said, “I wish I hadn’t brought it. We shouldn’t need it against this sort of people.” He was much nearer now, and in a moment I could see him through the fog, very tall, slender, and hatless, standing near the heavier man I had run into. Muffled in black, a third figure was apparently the woman. In losing my wind I had also lost the strength of my limbs, but I managed to roll behind the base of a statue, and once secure there I peered out at them again.
My eyes had grown accustomed to the dark. I could distinguish the woman’s heart-shaped face and note that she was nearly as tall as the slender man she had called Vodalus. The heavy man had disappeared, but I heard him say, “More rope.” His voice indicated that he was no more than a step or two away from the spot where I crouched, but he seemed to have vanished like water cast into a well. Then I saw something dark (it must have been the crown of his hat) move near the slender man’s feet, and understood that that was almost precisely what had become of him--there was a hole there, and he was in it.
The woman asked, “How is she?”
“Fresh... --This text refers to an alternate kindle_edition edition.
“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--This text refers to an alternate kindle_edition edition.
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This is an extremely challenging read. It rivals "Moby Dick" in linguistic complexity. Frankly, my Kindle worked overtime using fast Wikipedia and Dictionary look-ups features for the vocabulary used. Often, multiple times on a single page! The challenge is two fold: 1) the archaic terms used: 40% are in the dictionary, 40% are in Wikipedia, and 20% are in neither (the author simply creates). I really do not know how the book could have been accurately read at the time it was written because the Internet (and its associated speed) did not yet exist & 2) many sentences are constructed in an archaic way as well. I am telling you, the vocabulary used would have driven William F. Buckley Jr. (well known for his expansive vocabulary, FYI) running to the dictionary routinely.
I read a lot and have a Master's...this is a challenging read up with the most complex I have every read or heard about. I am 59 and have a gracious amount of books under my proverbial "belt".
It is written in the first person in the very distant future as a memoir of sorts. The original writer from the future has a sort of photographic memory which is used to add credibility to the detail of the story. The actual author (I.e., Wolfe) has an appendix stating that it was translate into our current English (Circa 1983). So, the actual author is merely a translator. He states that there are numerous word substitutions for various reasons as it is set in the future.
The terminology used spans from the Classic Greek era of time (~500 BC or so) of time to ~1983. It spans European and Arab cultural references and terminology references.
The work is impressive and very much worth the read. It is in the top handful of Scyfy reads every written IMHO. I caution anyone who attempts to read this to use a reader. The fast look-up capability is essential to appreciating the work. Reading a hard copy would be an effort in frustration unless you have a Masters or PhD in literature along with advanced degrees in ancient history.
I love this book. I suppose I love for the piece as a work of literature, but I think I love even more because it made me work so hard to read the work in a way needed to appreciate it.
Postscript: I have read several other reviews that give a poor rating. This novel is set on Earth with the sun dying. Far into the future. Society has de-evolved into many roles and practices more common a Medeival/Roman/Greek blend. High tech and interstelller space travel are ancient memories. It is male dominated but with several strong females. I feel many of the poor reviews were by readers who gave up and did not finish this challenging read. The Appendix mentioned above covers terminology used; the accuracy of the story is covered multiple times discussing the author's photographic memory.
Bottom line: the reader has to work while reading this book. It is not a "sit on the beach and read a page an hour" type book. You are working with the author with every sentence. Most people are not use to or prepared for this level of effort. When you finish this book you are rewarded handsomely with a sense of true accomplishment. This book is the equivalent to a large portion (40% or so) of a single college class in literature. 1.5 credits or so. IMHO.
The Shadow of the Torturer follows the last year of Severian’s life in The Citadel of Nessus and his few days after leaving into exile after breaking the greatest rule of the guild of torturers. Severian finds himself challenged to a duel and explores greater Nessus in preparation while coming into contacting with numerous interesting characters. The Claw of the Conciliator picks up a bit after the previous book with Severian performing his duties in a small mining town before going on a series of journeys going to the seat of government the House Absolute and leaving, all the while trying to figure out everything he’s involved in while trying not to dishonor his guild once again.
The first volume of the book, Shadow, was very intriguing and while somethings were clear—as might have been the plan—there was enough there to make me look forward to continuing on Severian’s journey. However the second volume, Claw, was all over the place with quality, interest, and frustration as one the main problems from the first volume, namely the first-person narration by Severian was all over the place. Add in an entire chapter that described a line-by-line recreation of a nonsensical play just to setup an attack by one of the characters on the audience in the next, much short chapter just added to my dislike of this particular volume.
I had high hopes for Shadow & Claw given that it was the first half of what is considered a classic tetralogy by Gene Wolfe. While I did like the first volume of the omnibus, the second one has made me wonder why this is considered a fantasy-science fiction classic by many.
The Shadow of the Torturer (3.5/5)
The Claw of the Conciliator (2/5)
Top international reviews
That was why revisiting this series of books, books I read in my youth but probably didn’t fully appreciate at the time was enlightening for the fact that for everything I have said is often lacking in the genre, Gene Wolf, proves that there is a better way.
The story is simple but as I will explain later, it isn’t the story that is the real selling point. Severian is a young man brought up in the bosom of a very ancient guild, a guild of torturers, an organisation who via strict codes operate as the impassive face of justice as decreed from above. After allowing an act of what he sees as mercy towards a prisoner in his charge he is banished from the guild and so begins a journey through a world he has barely experienced. The first few chapters set off down a very traditional fantasy path but when Severian finally encounters the city around him to head into exile the scope of Wolfe’s writing is revealed.
We learn of the world at the same pace as Severian himself, much of it as mysterious and strange to him as it is to the reader and this is where perspectives change. Initially the descriptions of this city give it a medieval or ancient feel but hints are given that this is not just another arbitrary setting with the typical swords and sorcery settings plundered for the sake of familiarity. This is actually Earth in the far future, one where the technology of this distant time seems like magic to his (and thus our) uneducated eyes. Small pieces of detail make reference to our own times, a time now ancient history in the timeline of the books.
But like all good literature it is also the quality of the writing that stands it apart from the pack. The story is being told by Severian in later life, so we are reading a memoir of his life and so the narrative is surrounded with insights, reflections and hindsight’s from a position where the narrator is already aware of the full scope of the story, his final destiny and the effects of the choices that he made along the way. It is this quality, along with the strength of the writing that add some wonderful philosophical dimensions to the story, a chance to rethink the twists and turns of his life and their role in his journey.
To add to the mystery the back-story of society is coloured in very slowly and Wolfe’s use of archaic and often invented words add to the exotic feel. There is a complex class structure which we learn about as our protagonist does, the guilds and history of the world around him often hang half finished allowing the reader to mentally complete the picture and even Severian’s own childhood is only hinted at as the narrative requires.
It is a series, which is slow and subtle, rich in detail rather than action and all the better for it. It is also Severian’s story own we are allowed into only via his recollections and thoughts. Many fantasy’s can be summed up easily, A fellowship must destroy a ring to save a world, Thomas Covenant must defeat Lord Foul to preserve the Land, this series of books is much more difficult to predict and is much more about the journey, a slow unravelling of information which follows the ethic of “it is better to travel hopefully than to arrive.”
Slow to develope but very compelling once you become familier with the style of writing. The Characters are very well described and you soon care what happens to them all.
One of the best stories I have read for a while.
If you like Sci-Fi then go ahead and read them.
It starts off leading in one direction, and then goes all over the place. I realize that the author compiled it originally as separate works, but they really don't flow well together. He tries to bring in too many themes and too many sub plots and too many characters.
There are a lot of fantastically vivid, wild and imaginative concepts presented. My favourite part was just reading about strange characters and beings. It's certainly high fantasy (high high fantasy) and the writing style is absolutely incredible! I wish I could write as well as Wolfe, he has such a unique talent for words I haven't seen elsewhere.
Reading this book is a challenge. And, in my opinion, a totally rewarding one, since its plots and storytelling structure does not follow the same rules and formulae applied in almost every fantasy story currently available.
Por si sola es una gran historia, siendo accesible pero a la vez contiene muchas capas de simbolismo dentro de si lo que hace que reelerlo siempre sea un placer, buscando lo que Gene Wolfe dejo escondido para nosotros los lectores.
Conclusion: Waist of time - read better books, of which there are a lot