23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
A mesmerising science fantasy tour de force,
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!