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Publisher's Summary

The Shadow of the Torturer is the first volume in the four-volume epic, the tale of a young Severian, an apprentice to the Guild of Torturers on the world called Urth, exiled for committing the ultimate sin of his profession - showing mercy towards his victim.
©1980 Gene Wolfe; (P)2009 Audible, Inc.
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Critic Reviews

"The best science fiction novel of the last century." (Neil Gaiman)


World Fantasy Award, Best Novel, 1981


Favorite Audiobooks of 2010 (Fantasy Literature)
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Customer Reviews

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By Ryan on 03-20-10

great writing, won't appeal to everyone

There was a time when the fantasy genre didn't just exist to entertain, but sometimes aspired to a higher level of artfulness. The Shadow of the Torturer is such a book. Set in a far distant future, when Earth's sun is fading and human society has lost much of its technological aptitude, Wolfe's novel has a haunting, elegiac quality. It's written in a voice reminiscent of 19th century writers like Poe or Dickens, which adds to the melancholy beauty. Fortunately for the squeamish, though torture is part of the story, it's not described in much detail.

In terms of plot, The Shadow of the Torturer isn't a complex novel. The protagonist grows up under the protection of a strange, cloistered society, learns a few things about the outside world, betrays his guardians, and is thrown out to seek his own fortune -- familiar fantasy stuff. But what sets the book apart from standard swords-and-sorcery fare is the richness of its language and the great imagination in its details; the difference is like comparing a fine oil painting to a crude computer graphic rendering. It has subtlety that forces the reader to pay attention. Wolfe messes with time and space, contemplates philosophical ideas, writes long exchanges whose import isn't immediately clear, and relies on the audience to make sense of the strange, slightly dreamlike events that unfold in the story, rather than spelling out how they're connected.

Without a doubt, this is a book that will absorb some readers and alienate others. Wolfe's ornate, college-level English, though not difficult, is not for everyone. Nor will everyone relate to the protagonist's detached, clinical voice. Basically, if you're looking for a light, Harry Potter-style book with instantly charismatic characters, you're better off going elsewhere. But, for readers who appreciate sophisticated writing and atmospheric, textured imaginary worlds, this is a great read.

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93 of 103 people found this review helpful


By Rheba on 02-20-12

I had forgotten how much I loved this series

I must have read the entire four-book series at some point in the 90s, and I recall that i was fascinated by the story. Fast forward to 2012. I accidentally happened upon the Shadow of the Torturer while perusing some books lists. Wow. I was very pleased to see that Audible has the entire series. The author has written a compelling story, combining sheer horror, symbolism, philosophy. Hearing Jonathan Davis's excellent narration of the author's beautiful prose is a pleasure.

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7 of 7 people found this review helpful

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By Peter on 08-09-10

Gene Wolfe's classic masterwork

Gene Wolfe's 4-volume 'Book of the New Sun' (5 volumes, when you add 'The Urth of the New Sun') is arguably one of the finest works of 20th century fiction, not just SF/fantasy. Like Jack Vance's 'Dying Earth' series (to which it respectfully nods), Wolfe sets his story so far in the future that SF and fantasy meld. Our own and subsequent ages survive only in garbled myth and archaeology. The story is beautifully written, and brims with stunning ideas, literary influences and inventiveness. Once appreciated, it lingers forever in the memory. On one level it can be read simply as a superior SF/fantasy story. However, new readers should be aware that it's much more tricksy than it first seems. Every sentence is carefully and deliberately crafted, the narrator can not always be relied on for accuracy, characters are often much more than they seem, and what appear to be inconsequential details assume huge significance later in the work. It repays multiple re-readings in a way few works do. If you get to the end and have enjoyed it, track down 'Solar Labyrinth' by Robert Borski and 'Lexicon Urthus' by Michael Andre-Driussi, and prepare to be gob-smacked and delighted by what you've missed. Then re-read it from the beginning!

The narration is high quality and admirably serves the series. Just the right amount of voice characterisation without 'over acting'. Bravo audible!

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4 of 4 people found this review helpful


By Stephen on 04-03-10

Very, very good

I've been waiting and hoping that Wolfe's Book of the New Sun would get an audiobook version. In terms of the original text Wolfe's work stands alongside that of Tolkien and Herbert, among the greatest and most rewarding of authors, one whose profound work repays the reader in direct proportion to their own effort. Now we get to listen to this lengthy meditation on love, memory and identity...and what a listen it is!

The narration is smooth and measured and fits very well the tone and tempo of the book in my opinion. The complexity of Severian's character and the original text are well-served by Jonathon Davis and I would heartily recommend this to any fan of Wolfe. And if you're not already a fan of Wolfe this just might change your mind.

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4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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By tom on 08-23-17

it's Gaiman-esque

a lucid and beautiful piece of sci fi fantasy this series is a piece of art that didn't always make sense but it always made me think.

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By Simon Mierendorff on 04-01-15

Beautifully written

I have never before read (or rather heard) such vivid and intricately imaginative writing. Wolfe builds a phenomenal world without insulting the reader, and in so doing (by the use of the narrator) creates one of the most fully realized characters and intriguing universes I have ever come to know.

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