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Shadow & Claw: The First Half of 'The Book of the New Sun' Paperback – October 15, 1994
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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
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Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
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.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
There are certain books that can be considered life-changing experiences. Gene Wolfe is an author who has written one of those for me. Read morePublished 13 days ago by Nick T
Since I started serious reading at about 12 years old, I do not remember a book that was less entertaining, educational, or even interesting so far into it. Read morePublished 1 month ago by Angst Bane
I couldn't keep focused on this one. I felt like the author expected me to understand the history and lore of the world in the book. Read morePublished 1 month ago by Ralph P
It is hard to describe what Gene Wolfe has done here, but he manages to touch on something very deep that most authors struggle with but almost all aspire to, if that makes sense. Read morePublished 1 month ago by Giovanni Carey
I had heard good things about these books but couldn't really get into the characters, the plot, or the writing style.Published 1 month ago by G. Robards
I loved this book. The characters were well drawn and unique, and the story was original and compelling.Published 2 months ago by Lauren
When I was in middle school I bought Nightside the Long Sun - it ruined me. Wolfe like all genuinely great writers has lived life. Read morePublished 3 months ago by G. Langton
Simply brilliant. One of the most eloquent and creative writers I have come across.
The world he describes is wonderful, full of mythology and strangeness. Read more