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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best books ever written
This book is one of the most beautiful writings ever produced in the English language. It is not what I would call an accessible "storytelling" book; Stephen King is the master at writing such novels. This book is beautifully written and complex at every level, from each sentence to the whole story and every image and thought it creates in one's mind. It is also...
Published on July 12 2004 by Mark Wilson

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Genius or sham?
That's what I can't figure out about this book, and this writer. I'd read books before that I felt were not for me, or that I felt I had not understood. This one, however, left me wondering, "IS there anything to understand?" I like challenging reads, but sometimes there's such a thing as a pointlessly difficult read with no other reason for being difficult than...
Published on May 7 2004 by Fallout Girl


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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Genius or sham?, May 7 2004
By 
Fallout Girl (Brooklyn, NY United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Shadow & Claw: The First Half of 'The Book of the New Sun' (Paperback)
That's what I can't figure out about this book, and this writer. I'd read books before that I felt were not for me, or that I felt I had not understood. This one, however, left me wondering, "IS there anything to understand?" I like challenging reads, but sometimes there's such a thing as a pointlessly difficult read with no other reason for being difficult than to claim itself a masterpiece. Unfortunately, only very few of such books are actual masterpieces, and this is not one of them.
First, the good points: the main character is definitely very unique and intriguing. Despite his rather odd and disturbing occupation, Wolfe manages to make him strangely compelling. The writing is highly descriptive, detailed and rich, creating a picture of a truly bizarre, fantastic society.
That said, there is no doubt that the story IS original. Yet at the same time, it falls short on so many levels that it would take me about 5 pages to describe in detail. The main character's nature and profession are what makes him so interesting yet, having given us much insight into his past and present, Wolfe all of a sudden disregards those aspects completely just as the story starts getting interesting. He brings in more compelling and well-written characters (Dorcas, Agia, Jonas) in the middle of book one, only to abandon them for no solid reason and with no explanation by the beginning of book two. He makes things happen that seem like they might lead to very interesting plot turns and resolutions, but in the end they only prove to have been completely pointless and unnecessary. All that the reader is left to think is, "huh?" There are enough loose ends in this book to choke and elephant. So many times in the course of reading it, I found myself drawn into the story in one chapter, only to be disappointed and confused by lack of resolution and continuity in the very next. By the end of book two I felt annoyed and exhausted and definitely not interested of reading any more.
I cannot help but imagine the author writing this book without quite knowing where and how it would end, and with a thick dictionary of medieval terms at his side. I feel that the fancy archaic and invented terms were put in there simply because they sounded cool, and for no other reason than to make the writing sound fancier and more original. But if you really look at it, it's what's often called a "replacement technique". Replace "horses" with "destriers", replace "nobles" with "chatelaines", replace "gold" with "orichalks", and there you have it. I'm sorry to say but that is NOT a mark of a genius. Fancy words do not an original story make. If you want to see a truly original story set in a truly alien world, don't waste your time on this. Try China Mieville's "Perdido Street Station", and its sequel, "The Scar" instead.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Silly, overwritten, underplotted and pointless, June 23 2001
This review is from: Shadow & Claw: The First Half of 'The Book of the New Sun' (Paperback)
To say The Book of the New Sun to a retelling of the old testament is to say that "Smokey and the Bandit" is a retelling of Ulysses.
I was originally taken in by the rave reviews and even gave the first volume, Shadow of the Torturer a grudging three stars. Now that I have completed the four novels I feel cheated. The "great vocabulary" is nothing more than a device that actually tires after awhile, not because one can't understand it, but rather it becomes a gimmick.
Good writing may make a reader search for meaning, but it doesn't make a reader search for plot. And that is one of several problems with this story. I kept expecting some sort of summation, some revelation of several needlessly ambiguous plot points. But, no such luck. Fine, if you want to convince yourself that being confused by an underplotted, overwritten storyline is really being treated intelligently by the writer, then go ahead. But an final vigorous editing is what this series needed badly.
Wolfe seems to "write on the fly". In other words, something is suddenly revealed in book three about a character in book one. You're left thinking- what? He uses this technique not because he planned it or to make the story or characters deeper or for any other reason than it fits into the gimmick storyline/adventure he has thought up for Severian at that moment in his writing. To think it's more complex than that is to fool yourself.
In the end this is a tale silly beyond words. Early on the main character- Severian- actually takes part in the horrible and brutal torture of the woman he loves. Well, at least one of the women he "loves", seems Severian falls in love at the drop of a hat. Redemption here, doesn't even build up. He just announces that he won't torture/kill again after letting a "client" go. The redemption itself is a response to the terrible critical beating Wolfe took over the ammorality of Severian by several literary reviewers of that time (early eighties), not to any pre-planned story line.
The characters are basically one dimensional, with little thought to any depth except maybe only slightly Severian, who is not that likeable for that matter. At the end of book II before he meets the "rebel" commander, he needlessly kills the three guards who work for the man he supposedly admires. Then, V, after seeing the headless body of one of his men, greets Severian as....a guest. Not exactly a military leader that would inspire confidence among his soldiers.
I began to think that Urth would actually be a better place if the main character and all of his torturers guild were basically wiped off the planet and the series itself would be a much better one if the mystery of how Urth became the way it was became the main point of the story rather than a collateral one.
So, if you are impressed by little used vocabulary, consider being confused by a poor plot "intellectually challenging" and are wowed with sophmoric philisophical musings thought up by one dimensional characters, then by all means take a stab at this. Otherwise look elsewhere.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best books ever written, July 12 2004
By 
Mark Wilson (San Francisco, CA USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Shadow & Claw: The First Half of 'The Book of the New Sun' (Paperback)
This book is one of the most beautiful writings ever produced in the English language. It is not what I would call an accessible "storytelling" book; Stephen King is the master at writing such novels. This book is beautifully written and complex at every level, from each sentence to the whole story and every image and thought it creates in one's mind. It is also an unforgiving book -- nothing is really explained. But, the book rewards careful reading and re-reading. I enjoy it anew every time I read it. My son has read it several times since he was a teenager and has become enthralled. Without compromising, Wolfe is letting his central character tell a story that takes place in a culture and a physical environment far removed from our own. The reader must struggle to comprehend this alien landscape with only the unfamiliar and idiomatic, but still human, narrative of a single person from this other time in the far future.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars I'm shocked!!!, March 15 2004
This review is from: Shadow & Claw: The First Half of 'The Book of the New Sun' (Paperback)
"The first of two volumes of one of the greatest novels ever written", "A masterpiece. Tatally original, new, incomparable; the beginning of something great." "Recently voted the greatest fantasy of all time after the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit..." blah, blah, blah - these are some of the high praises for this book. I forced myself through the first book hoping that the second would finally show something of "the greatest novel of all time". After watching "Severian", a person who is a learned torturer (how charming) and kills and torturers people for money, for 300-something pages and "listening" to his rather boring thoughts, living in his well written but dark and dying and depressing world, I reached a point in the second book "The claw of the conciliator" were I found myself unable to read on. There Gene Wolfe describes how the main character executes a young woman, in detail. First she's branded on both cheek's, then her legs are broken and after that she's beheaded. I'm just shocked and don't intend to read it further. I just can't identify with a main character like that and of course I'm offended by the violence and sadism in this book. I couldn't find anything wise, unusually intelligent or inspiring in this "work". What I can't understand is the hype created around these books. While his writing is pretty good it is so overloaded with archaic greek and latin vocabulary that it's ridiculous. I've read the books of the Long Sun which I liked - so I expected this to be something like those books. I find it alarming how many of the so called masterpieces today are needlessly violent and sadistic.
I have nothing left to say, only that I wasted my money and time on this.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing, June 8 2004
By 
Eric Belcastro (Bridgeville, PA United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Shadow & Claw: The First Half of 'The Book of the New Sun' (Paperback)
This is the greatest, most intelligent modern work of fiction I have ever read. I dont profess that is necessarily benevolant, but it is what it is, and deserves recognition. To say it is well worwth the read, is an understatement.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Second to None, March 6 2004
This review is from: Shadow & Claw: The First Half of 'The Book of the New Sun' (Paperback)
Why try to go in-depth? This book is the pinnacle of american fantasy: kafka-esque, nightmarish, but full of hope. The interludes provide a very-real backdrop to a society that has slowly lost itself over millions of years of stagnation. Severian is the chlorine thrown into the stagnant water that is modern fantasy.
This series will leave the most gourmet appetite filled. Margaret Weiss and Tracy Hickman fanbois need not apply.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Starts strong but quickly became tedious, Feb. 11 2004
By 
Zachary (Somerville, MA United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Shadow & Claw: The First Half of 'The Book of the New Sun' (Paperback)
The concept of the main character being a torturer is fascinating and is by far the most interesting concept of the book. The first book (Shadow of the Torturer) is actually decent for this reason. Unfortunately the author seems to get bored and entire chapters are taken up with short stories, plays, and other half-assed works. In the second book the narrator states "assume I am continuing to work as a torturer as I travel" and goes on to tell the story in a high fantasy style ignoring the most fascinating parts of the character.
I had just finished China Melville's "Perdito Street Station" and have to say that Gene Wolfe's pretensions are a mockery of writing after reading China's masterful ministrations.
If you want complex worlds try Steven Erikson, if you want artistic style try China Melville. If you want good fiction about executioners you should try to chase down some of Dru Pagliosotti's High Lord Executioner tales (web only). All those works show years of care and effort, while this book had obvious spelling and textural errors. Even the editor had trouble finishing the book to all appearances.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars laughable genre-writer pretension, Feb. 4 2004
By A Customer
This review is from: Shadow & Claw: The First Half of 'The Book of the New Sun' (Paperback)
Wolfe is the type of writer who writes to impress critics, other writers, and people who would like to be writers, instead of drawing on deeper cultural archetypes or his own spiritual depths (such as they might be). What that means is this: first, he gets good reviews. Second, he heavy-handedly inserts vapid asides which he and his target demographic imagine are deep philosophical insights in every twentieth paragraph; provides slick, polished prose that really says and evokes nothing at all; and most importantly, leaves everything of any importance in the book open to endless interpretation, giving the genre-fiction geek-critics fodder for endless useless debate. It goes without saying that he provides zero entertainment value, as that would injure his reputation. If you're one of these pseudo-literary types who likes the Harlan Ellison or Neil Gaiman brand of fantasy, well, here's some more of it. Or, if you actually have any taste or want to have any fun, go read Jack Vance's marvelous, ten-star classic "Tales of Dying Earth" -- the book that Wolfe is doing a poor job of ripping off in this egregious product of sci-fi-convention, writer's-workshop culture.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Something original in all aspects, Dec 12 2003
By 
tyler hunter (Savannah, GA United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Shadow & Claw: The First Half of 'The Book of the New Sun' (Paperback)
If you have found yourself in the same position as I, were time and again you run into typical cliché formulated fantasy and science fiction. Then I feel you will find this novel and its predecessors truly captivating. The novel tells the story of a Severian, an apprentice of the guild of torturers, who through his own mercy becomes an outcast in a world as alien to him as it is to the reader. The series guides Severian through a long a struggle filled journey filled with characters and locations that range from humorous to out right bizarre. Summing up the depth and elegance of Wolfe's creation is something that can only be achieved by reading the novel itself. The language, the intricate story that weaves its web in subtle ways, the philosophy, the mysteries that uncover the identity of the world all bring something new to the table of fantasy. I was truly captivated by this novel and recommend it to any advanced reader. I say advanced because I will admit the language is difficult and from what I read from other reviewers this seems to bother a few people. This is not romp along cheesy fantasy and if that is your ticket I'll suggest you should avoid. Anyone who is looking for something that provokes the mind, and has a bit of rich texture go no further then this novel and its follow up Sword and Citadel.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Wolfe overrated, Dec 6 2003
By A Customer
This review is from: Shadow & Claw: The First Half of 'The Book of the New Sun' (Paperback)
When I saw that this book got such great reviews I decided to buy it - big mistake! I feel obligated to write a review to others so that they can avoid the same mistake. In all fairness some of the reviews which rated this book as great did so with the qualification that the style is difficult. This is an understatement - the characters are boring and the story is confusing. The direction is never clear, characters come and go with no overall theme and you never get any strong feeling for the main character (one way or the other). I got through the whole book and even tried to start book#3 in the series but could see it going nowhere and finally decided to put myself out of my misery and just quit. I would advice you to avoid making the same mistake and take a pass on this series.
Recommend :
Any Jack Vance novel - especially Demon Princes, Night Lamp, Dying Earth, Lyonnesse
Stephen King's Dark Tower series
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Shadow & Claw: The First Half of 'The Book of the New Sun'
Shadow & Claw: The First Half of 'The Book of the New Sun' by Gene Wolfe (Paperback - Oct. 15 1994)
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