The Claw of the Conciliator Paperback – Mar 15 1982
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Top Customer Reviews
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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
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.
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).
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.
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
Gene Wolfe's writing is a known commodity and can be summarized as excellent. The use of imagery and complex language makes it a very rich experience for the reader.
In addition to the continuous strange adventure of Severian from the Citadel to Thrax, the book contains a short story and Dr. Talos' play which meaning and relation to the story is still unclear.
Gene Wolfe is a mix of typical medieval fantasy and futuristic science-fiction. This is probably one of the bigger challenge for the reader as you constantly try to figure out what direction the story is getting.
In addition, I got the feeling that Gene Wolfe kept the book confusing in purpose, trying to confuse the reader and dropping an insane amount of hint and not resolving any questions. At the end of the book, I have still no idea what/where/whom the book is all about. And this is why it is only 4 stars.