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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A mesmerising science fantasy tour de force
At one time it was common to see some run of the mill fantasy author lauded as the "the new Tolkien", either in magazine reviews or, modestly, on his or her own book jacket. Almost invariably, however, the novels themselves were disappointing parodies or imitations of Tolkien and a few other good fantasy and SF authors, lacking in originality, literary flare...
Published on 20 April 2000

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Huge disappointment
On the surface, this book should have become a favourite of mine - I'm a big fan of distant future epics (a la Silverberg or Vance) and the premise of a professional torturer as the main character seemed intriguing.

Sadly, after plowing my way through it twice, I still can't see what all the hype is about. The first few chapters are actually rather gripping,...
Published 8 months ago by Andrea Bertuzzi


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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Huge disappointment, 7 Aug. 2014
This review is from: The Book Of The New Sun: Volume 1: Shadow and Claw (Fantasy Masterworks): Shadow and Claw Vol 1 (Paperback)
On the surface, this book should have become a favourite of mine - I'm a big fan of distant future epics (a la Silverberg or Vance) and the premise of a professional torturer as the main character seemed intriguing.

Sadly, after plowing my way through it twice, I still can't see what all the hype is about. The first few chapters are actually rather gripping, but the blurb's promise of a vast, cosmic epic with philosophical overtones soon boils down to a meandering plot that doesn't go anywhere, with lots of navel-gazing and trite ruminations about time and mortality thrown in that utterly destroy the flow of the story. Characters appear and disappear at random, subplots are started and left hanging, and it's almost impossible to feel any interest in - leave alone empathy with - any of the characters.
The setting also feels underdeveloped. For me, the appeal of distant future fiction lies in seeing Earth as we know it changed and transfigured almost (but not quite) beyond recognition - and to look back to our own age through the eyes of the characters, who can only see it through the distorting lens of thousands (or even millions) of years. It's all about finding a delicate balance between the familiar and the uncanny - sadly, I have found very little of this in this book. References to ages past and forgotten are made, but not fleshed out enough to provide any real sense of wonder - Lovecraft's short story "Till a' the seas" delivers more of it in its scant five pages than Wolfe's book does in its five hundred.

Unlike other reviewers, I actually liked the writing style - at first. Wolfe obviously knows his Thesaurus and has no qualms showing it. The massive use of archaic and literary terms is probably meant to add to the whole idea of "antiquity in the future" - it could have worked out wonderfully with a properly developed setting and storyline. Unfortunately, as there isn't much of either, it soon starts to feel contrived and only makes the reading more awkward.

I can't give the book one star as there are good ideas and intriguing scenes scattered throughout, but the impression I'm left with is of an over-ambitious failure.

Anyone looking for engaging, sense-of-wonder-filled visions of the Earth's far future would better check out the works of Robert Silverberg, Jack Vance, Clifford D Simak and Arthur C Clarke, just to name a few, and give this stuff a pass.
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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A mesmerising science fantasy tour de force, 20 April 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: The Book Of The New Sun: Volume 1: Shadow and Claw (Fantasy Masterworks): Shadow and Claw Vol 1 (Paperback)
At one time it was common to see some run of the mill fantasy author lauded as the "the new Tolkien", either in magazine reviews or, modestly, on his or her own book jacket. Almost invariably, however, the novels themselves were disappointing parodies or imitations of Tolkien and a few other good fantasy and SF authors, lacking in originality, literary flare and, perhaps most importantly, any sense of place and atmosphere in the worlds they imagined.
Where all these writers failed Gene Wolfe, in his four part "Book of the New Sun" succeeded majestically. Although the book is in some senses clearly derivative of other SF works, most notably Jack Vance's "Dying Earth Series, Wolfe draws largely on classical history to and mythology to create and boundlessly vast world that is all the more mysterious and fascinating for the fact that it is almost as strange and new to Wolfe's hero, Severian, as it is to the reader.
Expelled from his place amongst the Guild of the Seekers for Truth and Penitence (commonly "The Torturers") Severian is obliged to travel on foot to his place of exile. The journey is his first time away from the citadel at the centre of the colossal but decaying metropolis Nessus (Rome, Contantinople?). The reader, therefore, has the chance to discover the world (Earth many millennia in the future) with the books protagonist. The result is a layering of reality not unlike that achieved by Ridley Scott in his early films, most notably Blade Runner. The universe of the story is not composed of a few truths and verities that are presented to reader as cast in stone. As in our own world room is left for varying shade of opinion and perception, distortion, half truths and half remembered truths. Reading the book Severian's world and its inner logic seems to the reader to become more tangible than his or her own.
It is precisely here that Wolfe suceeds were so many other fantasy and science fantasy authors have failed. In creating a world that is nothing like Tolkien's but has a firm basis in layers of history, mythology and in Wolfe's own imagination, the writer comes closer than any other author (certainly any author I've read) in crafting a novel comparable to Tolkien's precisely because of it is nothing like anything that Tolkien wrote, except in the quality of Wolfe's writing, the breadth of his sources and the sweep of his imagination.
If you like good fantasy read this book. Even if you don't normally like fantasy but are enjoy history, myth or simply captivatingly good writing, read this book. In general, just read this book!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Impossible., 1 Sept. 2014
By 
Archy (ALTRINCHAM, Cheshire United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Book Of The New Sun: Volume 1: Shadow and Claw (Fantasy Masterworks): Shadow and Claw Vol 1 (Paperback)
I tried hard to like this. I gave up once, finding little of interest in the characters, but went back and tried again after seeing that it had a lot of 5 star ratings. And to be fair, there were some passages that were quite interesting. But as it went on (and on and on) and characters appeared and disappeared without any coherent explanation if it suited the plot, I got more and more exasperated. I'd have liked to have given it at least three stars for the parts where interest revived, but as a whole I found it quite impossible to like.

The plot? All first person narrative - the hero is a torturer (nice chap) expelled from his guild and sent to a faraway land to act as executioner. Like I say, nice chap - I'm really going to identify with him, no? Anyway, off he goes and after a promising, though convoluted start, he encounters more and more characters who drift in and out of the novel. I'd call it episodic, but you do need to be on your toes, especially in the second volume, where the characters from the first volume are mostly shrugged away, only to reappear when needed. By the end, I'd once again ceased to care.

Especially annoying are the dozens - literally dozens - of alien words, which are not, as in some fantasy novels, made up words, but real ones with their roots in mythology or obscure languages. Oh how very clever! Clever it may be, but for all the clarification they add they may as well be nonsense. In the end, I thought this a positive monument of pretentiousness; I should have stuck with my first impression. Not for the first time do I find myself reading someone happy to sacrifice clarity for a mere demonstration of their own erudition.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Too dull, too complicated., 2 Nov. 2014
By 
K. Morice "kevinmorice" (Aberdeen, Scotland) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Book Of The New Sun: Volume 1: Shadow and Claw (Fantasy Masterworks): Shadow and Claw Vol 1 (Paperback)
Too dull, too complicated.

I came to this book from a list of the top-100 Sci-Fi books of all time so I admit to expecting something a bit special. I am the best part of 70/100 through that list and so far I haven't had much to argue with, until now.

The first 20 pages or so race along nicely, and then we run straight into a brick wall. 50 pages of terrible grind and then we get another little pocket story which moves along nicely for a dozen pages, right now we are moving, and then crash again. His use of language is terrible, made up words, historic words, poor descriptions when they are needed and huge amounts of detail on pointless irrelevances.

Our 'hero' gets given a place to go and a job to do, spends the entirety of the first half of volume one on a single day of his journey, then completely forgets his mission by the opening page of the next section. And this sort of nonsense carries on throughout. Characters come and go and then come back and go again within a page. Scale, in both currency, times and distances is so inconsistent that there is even an appendix where he tries (in vain) to explain his own mess.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great but wierd, 16 May 2000
By 
J. Russell - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Book Of The New Sun: Volume 1: Shadow and Claw (Fantasy Masterworks): Shadow and Claw Vol 1 (Paperback)
This is a great book, but I'm not sure if it can really be described as fantasy. For me it works precisely because it is SF. If part of the aim in sci-fi is to do new and surprising things then Wolfe succeeds big time. His genius is in rendering the (extremely) far-future totally convincing, and paradoxically this is acheived by making it utterly alien. Where most SF basically transfers our own concerns into a technologically or socially 'advanced' society, Wolfe makes Severian and his world virtually incomprehensible. At various points in the novel space and time travel, teleportation, genetic engineering and biomechanics all feature, but they are all depicted as ancient, decaying and irrelevant. Furthermore, Wolfe fills the text with half remembered myths and historical misinterpretations from our own age and the millenia which have followed. Attempting to work out the possible source of these stories, and solving the other mysteries of the text, is great, and turns the reader into a kind of textual detective.
On the downside, the sheer 'strangeness' of this future can be quite offputting, as can Wolfe's laboured use of language. While both of these factors are vital to the novel's structure, they do take a bit of getting used to...
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12 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Heavy going., 9 Aug. 2001
By 
T. C. McDowall "MacSver" (Scotland) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Book Of The New Sun: Volume 1: Shadow and Claw (Fantasy Masterworks): Shadow and Claw Vol 1 (Paperback)
I bought this book on the strength of the number of five start ratings and the praises from worthy names in the SF/Fantasy field. Well, wasn't I suckered by the hype! Yes, this book is well written, (although Wolfe's style can be confusing at times), and evidently has all the ingredients for a fantasy fable with real depth and character, but, for all the literary allusions and subtleties of plot, I increasingly found it difficult sustain interest in Severian and his adventures. Characters, though well drawn, just seem to pop up in the most bizarre situations and then leave, whilst the stoic Severian continues on his almost aimless wanderings. The book often heads off on philosophical tangents, or spends inordinate time on the most trivial detail. I do not know how this can be compared to Tolkien's Ring trilogy, and the allusion is very deceptive. I found these first two books very heavy going, but I will endeavor to finish the saga in the hope that Severian redeems himself. Three stars for originality only.
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12 of 17 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing and frustrating, 10 Aug. 2009
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This review is from: The Book Of The New Sun: Volume 1: Shadow and Claw (Fantasy Masterworks): Shadow and Claw Vol 1 (Paperback)
Maybe this negative review is a reflection of the readers abilities?
Its difficult to be critical of a work that has received as many accolades as this one, but here goes.....

I found the authors prose and style frustrating. I found his depictions of people and places vague at best.
I didnt find myself understanding/empathising/ disliking or relating to the protagonists in any way.

At best dull. At worst? Perhaps the fault lies with me.

After finishing the book I decided it must be re read at a later date to reach the same conclusions as others who labelled this a masterpiece.

Sadly on second reading I abandoned the book halfway and reached the same conclusion as the first time

And while the protagonist may have embarked on a journey, as the reader I was left behind and disinterested

Why cant I see what others see in this?
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What a wake up call!, 6 May 2000
This review is from: The Book Of The New Sun: Volume 1: Shadow and Claw (Fantasy Masterworks): Shadow and Claw Vol 1 (Paperback)
I demolished this the first day I opened it, then I had to wait to get the next two chapters via amazon from the USA. My advice, buy them both at the same time (Sword & Citadel : The Second Half of the Book of the New Sun : The Sword of the Lictor and the Citadel of the Autarch )
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5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Deservedly Acclaimed Science Fantasy, 30 Jun. 2005
This review is from: The Book Of The New Sun: Volume 1: Shadow and Claw (Fantasy Masterworks): Shadow and Claw Vol 1 (Paperback)
From what I've read so far of 'The Book of the New Sun' tetralogy (i.e., this ;)), Wolfe deserves at least a part of his considerable acclaim. He expertly lays out his rather gothic, intricately detailed scenes, and proceeds to fill them with a plethora of characters. Some of these characters will only appear in a single chapter or two, but Wolfe is always careful to clearly delineate each creation, pumping them full of personality and luscious description that fills the words with vivid physicality. The plot can occasionally appear a bit unconnected, and Wolfe is prone to philosophical flights of fancy that don't always fit with the picture of the character he has built up, but any failings are more than made up for atmospherically. It is in this that Wolfe excels - his world is immersive, outlandish, but consistently engaging. He is also highly inventive, producing streams of neologisms as well as reviving medieval terminology (e.g., 'leman', 'destrier'), which provides a certain degree of archaic authenticity to Wolfe's world of Urth. As this is also intended to be Earth, but a million years in the future, that authenticity is especially well applied. My one problem with is that, in this volume, Wolfe is somewhat conventional in his treatment of women; he tends to use them to decorate his text rather than engage fully into an investigation of gender issues. The female characters are invariably attractive, and almost always attracted to his main character, Severian. Still, this one chauvinistic failing aside, 'The Shadow of the Torturer' (first of the two books included in this volume) is a rewarding piece of fiction.
This second volume in the tetralogy, 'The Claw of the Conciliator', has many of the strengths of its predecessor, but also some weaknesses. In particular, the chapters in which Wolfe attempts stylistic and structural innovation, such as his play and 'extract', fall short of his usual writing. Of course, that still means falling short of a rather high standard, so while these sections are less enjoyable than others, they still manage to expand Wolfe's New Sun mythos. The narrative also continues the occasionally disconnected sensation prevalent in the first, which is a part of Wolfe's style, albeit one which can be confusing when the jump-cuts follow in quick succession. This is noticeable at the beginning of the second book, where it takes a while to establish a connection with the end of Wolfe's previous work, 'The Shadow of the Torturer'. One point of special interest is Wolfe's greater emphasis on science fiction elements, though these are cleverly interwoven with the fantasy milieu in a way that doesn't jar. Hence the reason these books are categorised as science fantasy rather than either one or the other genre.
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5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Tremendous mythical odyssey, 25 Feb. 2002
By A Customer
This review is from: The Book Of The New Sun: Volume 1: Shadow and Claw (Fantasy Masterworks): Shadow and Claw Vol 1 (Paperback)
Having been introduced to the book of the New Sun several years ago, it was great to be able to buy the series and re-read and re-read again! The story of Severian is one that gives you the feeling that you are only ever hearing a small part of it, and to me this only enhances the biblical nature of the book. On every reading I have discovered more connections and hidden meanings, and all this book has ever done is make me think, think, think !!
The language with its archaic and cabalistic vocabulary may appear daunting at the beginning, but truly this only adds to the colour of the story. Wolfe adds many anecdotes, fables etc. and again this adds to the impression that this book is not just a fantasy story but a collection of myths from the end of the world and the biased and all-too human story of a man, written by himself and cast into space-time ! This makes for a truly cosmic plot that links science, religion and myth. The amount of philosophy in the story is also terrific, giving the book a real literary and intelligent edge, something which a book from the same series (Vance's Tales of the Dying Earth) severely lacks. Severian is such a complex character ( if you read you will know why ! ) but he always suffers from human failings and is as much a true anti-hero as the likes of Elric. From this perspective The Book of the New Sun should be likened a lot more to Elric's story than to the LOTR. The overall impression left on me by this book is one of mystery and magic on a cosmic scale, and omissions (such as the fight at the wall and the identity of the mausoleum owner etc.)
only add to the mystery of the story. This is truly a masterful work of Sci-fi and of Literature. As a final word, the 5th book of the series, The Urth of the New Sun, although given mixed reviews, to me is a worthy sequel, adding spirituality to Severian's story, tying up loose ends and giving a more cosmic perspective.
If you are expecting another LOTR you are sure to be disappointed, but if a mysterious and sometimes mystifying read is what you are after this is it !
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