The Book of the New Sun. Book Review

by Gene Wolfe
Gollancz. p/b. £10.99
Reviewed by Elloise Hopkins

Torturer’s apprentice, Severian, is given a coin by a stranger. It is the first time he has touched gold. He will keep it in his secret place, his mausoleum, and from that moment on think often of the stranger who may have changed his world.

Severian’s master tells him he should not hear the words of those on which he carries out his craft. By the very nature of his position in the guild, Severian sees many things, but when one of his prisoners, the Chatelaine Thecla, speaks words which he hears and makes him feel things he should not feel, his place in the Citadel may be in danger.

Shadow and Claw brings us the first two books in Wolfe’s The Book of the New Sun, with The Shadow of the Torturer setting the scene for Severian’s tale and The Claw of the Conciliator driving the more futuristic elements. The series is set in a world that is strange and dark, and not even our hero fully understands the rules. Named sword in hand, Severian has a long and arduous journey to tread.

From the first sentence the reader is drawn into a classic fantasy environment, with language setting the scene as much as the narrative sets the tone of this future-world science fiction. Wolfe uses description and a dream-like chronicle to capture the reader, and it is easy to see why the word masterpiece is used so frequently to describe this work. It is certainly a gem of an adventure story and the reader is richer for the journey.

This is a nice little edition of the first two books in the award winning series. The Claw of the Conciliator includes the script of Dr. Talos’ play and a story from Thecla’s book which will particularly delight returning readers and help newcomers through the saga.