The young torturer Severian continues his journey in this, the second volume of Wolfe's "Book of the New Sun" series. Skipping the first volume (The Shadow of the Torturer) is not recommended - this series is difficult enough to follow even for those who read every page. References to events that took place earlier are explained only in the briefest detail. In this volume, Severian's uneasy allegiance to both the Autarch and the mysterious revolutionary named Vodalus is severely tested. While journeying to Thrax where his guild has a position awaiting him, he takes part in the brutal execution of an innocent woman, has a mysterious assignation with his late beloved Thecla, battles a horde of man-apes, is captured by Volalus, participates in the bizarre sharing ceremony of the alzabo, and suffers a lengthy imprisonment before a portentous encounter in the picture room at the House Absolute, among other adventures. Once again, Wolfe uses language to create the other-worldly locale, employing archaic words to describe objects that are common enough on "Urth", but are unfamiliar to us. And even though the practical-minded Severian frequently doesn't seem to react to the astounding things he sees and experiences, most readers will find themselves intrigued, even though the question "What does it all mean?" remains unresolved. Like the first volume, this book is pretty light stuff - pure escapism, with no real point or depth of human insight apparent, but it is still a quick, enjoyable read. The fictional narrator foreshadows great things in Severian's future, and presumably the succeeding books will show an overall plan and sense of purpose that this novel lacks in and of itself. The violence and sexual content of these books makes this series unsuitable for young teens, but fans of this kind of pseudo-medieval fantasy should be very pleased indeed.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Audio versionDec 17 2010
- Published on Amazon.com
The Claw of the Conciliator is the second book in Gene Wolfe's The Book of the New Sun quartet. If you read The Shadow of the Torturer and felt like you were lost (or drunk), and weren't sure whether things would get clearer in the second book, I have to tell you that no, they don't. But if you, like me, enjoy that dreamy I'm-not-sure-where-I-am-or-how-I-got-here-or-where-I'm-going-but-everything-sure-feels-fine literary experience, then read on, because Severian's head is a strange and fascinating place to be.
The Book of the New Sun is one of those works that some people think is ingenious and others suspect is just drivel. This is not the series for a reader who wants a quick-paced action-filled story with a concrete beginning, middle and end. This is for someone who's in the mood to be open-minded and has the time and patience for some experimentation with character, setting, and theme. (And, perhaps, some mind-altering drugs might help.)
You don't need to worry about all of the religious imagery to enjoy these novels, but it's there if you want to look for it. Most obvious are the themes of healing and resurrection and the allusions to the Second Coming, and it's clear that Severian has some sort of role in that (though he may be completely oblivious). There is also the fascinating issue of Severian being an unreliable narrator. I'm not prepared to call him a "liar" (as some readers have done) because I can't find much evidence that he purposely lies to us. I think, rather, that his perceptions and memory are faulty. His claim that his memory is perfect may not be a lie, but rather his own misperception.
Gene Wolfe doesn't much care for a traditional fantasy setting and he also doesn't respect the traditional mechanics of storytelling. Tight plot? Why bother? This story wanders -- seemingly aimlessly -- all across the country (or maybe not, because we may have ended up where we started, but who knows?). Characters, conversations, and events that appear to be significant may mean nothing. There are hints of lost races, species, technologies, knowledge, and allegorical meaning that may never be explained and connected for us at the end. There is plenty of bizarreness (even an Ames Room!), which is what I enjoy most.
Wolfe's world is rich, most of what happens is unexpected, and the reader feels completely helpless to predict anything or even to be assured that things that will work out as they're "supposed to" in a fantasy novel. Imagine that you're reading one of those epics where you've cleverly figured out that the orphan boy hero is really the long-lost son of the king, but... the author won't acknowledge this. That would be weird and somewhat disconcerting. That's how it feels to read The Book of the New Sun. How strange and refreshing!
At the end of The Claw of the Conciliator, Severian says (just as he did at the end of The Shadow of the Torturer) that he doesn't blame us if we don't want to continue walking with him ("it is no easy road"). But we're in Gene Wolfe's creative hands, so it's not the destination; it's the journey that's paramount. If you're ready to embark on this strange trip, I recommend Audible Frontiers' audio version. Jonathan Davis is a favorite of mine and he does an amazing job with this difficult piece.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Sometimes You Wonder if Your Missing the Man Behind the CurtainJune 9 2007
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Gene Wolfe's 'Sun Series' has been described as a 'Masterwork' and is considered by many to be one of the greatest pieces of (any genre of) literature written during the twentieth century. Many compare it to Ulysses or to the works of the great Russian writers of the nineteenth century. I though have my own doubts, but this is just my opinion.
Having read this second part of the two books of the "New Sun", or Volume 2 of the tetralogy (take your pick) I feel that I'm missing something that all those 'in the know' have seen in these books. I especially feel that whatever was going on in the last fifty pages of the book was so beyond my comprehension and convoluted that I could have skipped it without loosing much of my enjoyment of the story.
I'm not sure which left me more confused, the 'Play' of Dr. Talos (Hello! what the heck is this about?), the occurance at the River, or what occurred in the 'Stone City' on top of the roof of the wrecked house. The ambiguities and enigmas that saturate the end of the book lead me to feel like I don't have a clue or the author is having me by the 'short hairs'. What would be more than funny is if Wolfe wrote all this 'allegory' just to leave something for people to ponder, while he laughed himself silly?
I'll probably finish the 'New Sun' cycle but whether I follow it to the end is itself a paradox of mitigated visions that are seen as phantasms on the other side of an occluded window pane (or window of pain).
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
complex but compelingOct. 25 2008
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'Claw of the Conciliator' is the second book in Gene Wolfe's 'Book of the New Sun'. This book, somewhat confusingly, does not pick up where 'The Shadow of the Torturer' leaves off, which is somewhat surprising since the end of the first book was kind of a cliffhanger. We never do find out (at least in this book) what happened at the end of first book. This illustrates the nature of Wolfe's writing, it is somewhat cryptic as we always see Urth through Severian's eyes and he asssumes the reader has knowledge about Urth, it's history and environs that the reader does not. Also Wolfe uses many archaic words which many readers find frustrating. This didn't bother me to much as it is usually clear from the context what the word means, and it definitely adds atmosphere, as well as another layer of meaning, to the story. There are definitely a lot of layers of meaning and allusions, not all of which I grasped. It is a very complex but compelling work, which cannot be judged in isolation, but really as part of the whole 'Book of the New Sun' work.
10 of 14 people found the following review helpful
Ultimately noJune 13 2010
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For the third time, I've found Gene Wolfe to not be the engaging genius that so many other reviewers have. It's clearly well formed with regards to language, I like the rich setting and the plot is a lot more engaging than the other Wolfe I've seen, but it's still ultimately unsatisfying. There just seems to be a narrative pointlessness to the whole thing, a deliberate undercutting of theme, and a lot of authorial ambivalence about if the work is genre or non, or if genre whether it commits to science fiction or fantasy. The whole thing is rather alienating, and while skilled in some ways, I can't pronounce it good.
Certainly there's a lot of subtle writing at work, playing with unreliable perspectives and shades of ambiguity. I don't see this project as worthy in itself, however, and it's not anchored to anything particularly exciting. It feels like a book too geared at expressing its own brilliance to actually be terribly interesting or engaging. Wolfe's narrative comes a lot closer to delivering an effective genre story than Memorare or There Are Doors does, but by the same token that leaves me frustrated by how much the book backs out of delivering an effective story. The other thing I find particularly alienating about this piece is the way it plays unreliable characters as against a distant and remote/weird setting. The ultimate result is to produce a type of alienation and remoteness that made it increasingly hard to feel invested in the story as it progressed. I was never entirely bored, but by the end I was rather frustrated and glad that this book ended.
Since this piece was, for whatever strange reason, a Nebula winner, some context. It gained this award in 1981, the year after Benford's Timescape and the year before Bishop's No Enemy But Time. Of the other shortlisted candidates for 1981 I haven't read any or their authors and can't say for sure if a more deserving winner was passed over at that stage. I'd tend to suspect it, however.
Similar to and better than: There Are Doors by Gene Wolfe
Similar to and worse than: Dying Earth by Jack Vance
The most moving books I've ever readAug. 19 2010
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Challenging, deep, sad, powerful...
To be honest, it took me a couple of tries. The first time I tried to read The Book of the New Sun, I stopped about halfway through the first volume. It didn't seem to be getting anywhere. I forgot about it (so I thought) for a long time, reading more "normal" fare.
But something haunting, dark, and insidious kept bringing my mind back to that misty night in the graveyard (chapter one of the first book), and the strange images and ideas that followed. I realized that I'd been reading it at face value - a young man and his adventures within an ancient city of the future. Yawn.
But there is so much more there which is between the lines, which is what ultimately drew me back. I was curious to try again and see what I'd evidently missed.
I read more slowly, without expectations of a magical ring and a dragon. Or even a journey to exotic lands. Or even a narrator who is telling the truth? Or even a narrator who is sane?
Once I approached it with an open mind...it blew my mind. Gene Wolfe is just a master spellweaver. There is magic in this book that is not the kind that flies from a wizard's fingers. It is much deeper, and ultimately...completely real and beautifully sad. Words escape me.
Just try it, go slow, and keep an open mind. It is not for everyone, but if you are one of the many who it is for, you are very lucky indeed.
"If you wish to walk no farther with me, reader, I cannot blame you. It is no easy road." - Severian