I've been a fan of The Book of the New Sun for 30 years, and was delighted that Audible took a chance and recorded it. Though its large and unfamiliar vocabulary may daunt listeners who have never read the text, those who persevere will know a world and a man unlike any other, and find them worth the knowing.
This was the first work of fantasy I read where such magic as it contained was the magic of Clarke's 3rd law: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." There are no dragons, sorcerers or wands, and the only sword is a blunt ended executioner's tool. The magic is in Wolfe's imagination as he builds a story set on an Earth so far in the future that the sun is dying, men mine the ruins of abandoned cities and their middens for raw materials, and so much has happened to the human race that legend and history have become interchangeable.
In this world, Wolfe sends Severian, the Torturer, on a hero's journey. As must be so on such a journey, the hero never knows himself as hero. Instead we live with his perils, his self doubt, his cowardice and courage, the terrible brutality and emotional blankness with which he practices his "art," and the discovery and growth that slowly reveal a magnificent heart. Severian is as flawed as the gem called the Claw of the Conciliator, and as real as your highest aspirations. You will not forget him, nor the many characters he meets on his journey from boyhood to a seat of power that proves to be both vast and impotent.
This is a remarkable book. Well crafted, rich language, delicate narrative. Certainly not filled with slashing heroes or delicate heroines and certainly not for everyone, but then neither is 20 year old scotch. If you enjoy language and the magic of words you will love this book. The narrator does a beautiful job bringing the characters to life...perfection.
I read the 1st book before and was happy to see the series here. I started with the 2nd book as an audio book, and purchased this 1st one in audio soon afterward. I found that I had forgotten much of the 1st book. Also, the narrator is so compelling that I thought I would gain more by listening to it instead of re-reading it.
In the early 1980's, almost 30 years ago, I read the four books of the new sun as well as its sequel The Urth of the New Sun. Of the hundreds of books I've read in my life, this series has stuck with me, forming me in many ways.
I just finished listening to the four books of the new sun, starting with The Shadow of the Torturer, and I listened to 48 or so hours almost non-stop just pausing when I must to sleep or work. I loved this reading and still love the books the second time around.
This is not so much a plot driven book, though it has a strong plot that it follows in its patient, winding way. It's a book of stories, allegories, compassion, growth and hope. It's a story of pain and loss and change but of humanity and our hope for a better world. I am a richer human for having read the series and richer for having heard it again now that I am older.
I can't wait for Audible to come out with the fifth book, and I hope they get Jonathan Davis to read it, too.
There are plenty of helpful reviews here. I wanted to give the would-be listener a couple examples of Wolfe's writing style, which I chose nearly at random. The reason to read this book is for this style, which I found to be very lyrical and sharp, and not for plot or character. I thought the narrator was well-suited to this style, because he was slow and articulate--listen to the sample to see if you agree.
"We believe that we invent symbols. The truth is that they invent us; we are their creatures, shaped by their hard, defining edges. When soldiers take their oath they are given a coin, an asimi stamped with the profile of the Autarch. Their acceptance of that coin is their acceptance of the special duties and burdens of military life—they are soldiers from that moment, though they may know nothing of the management of arms. I did not know that then, but it is a profound mistake to believe that we must know of such things to be influenced by them, and in face to believe so is to believe in the most debased and superstitious kind of magic. The would-be sorcerer alone has faith in the efficacy of pure knowledge; rational people know that things act of themselves or not at all."
"I saw a caique, with high, sharp prow and stern, and a bellying sail, making south with the dark current; and against my will I followed it for a time—to the delta and the swamps, and at last to the flashing sea where that great beast Abaia, carried from the farther shores of the universe in anteglacial days, wallows until the moment comes for him and his kind to devour the continents."
Years ago, I was initially put off by the theme of torture as the calling of the protagonist. Luckily, I gave it a second try, and found the subject given a philosophically deep and fascinating treatment that earns respect. This first book sets the story in a surprising and inspired world where the sun is fading and dim, but about to go nova. The details of the aged Urth are amazingly resonant in the imagination, and I have read the entire series many, many times. I have hoped for years that it would someday be available on Audible.
I am so glad I have found another author that I can trust to deliver a worthwhile experience. It is really a bad deal to take a gamble on a new writer and feel you 'wasted' your credits.
When the reviews are skimpy, I run to other review sites to see what others say. It appears that the titles have been changed a bit from the original works. At first, I thought the book left off in a ridiculous place until I realized that I only d/l'ed the first of 2 parts. I have already d/l'ed the 2nd book so there will be no waiting.
I rarely write reviews but since there are so few, I thought I would say a word or two to others who spend their credits cautiously. This writer is sophisticated and dark. I think of Robin Hobb's strong character development mixed with Robert Jordan's poetic skill. Any would be writers would do well to humble yourself observing this writers mastery.
If you are looking for something after this, I strongly recommend R.R. Martin's "A Song of Fire and Ice" series. Pretty much, most works pale in comparison to R.R. Martin's.
I hope this is helpful.
Increasing my ops tempo by allowing storytellers to whisper in my ear(buds).
This is a review of the four volume THE BOOK OF THE NEW SUN (TBNS) by Gene Wolfe; which traces the coming of age of Severian, once a member of The Order of the Seekers for Truth and Penitence.
In printed form the earlier works of Gene Wolfe can be quite challenging and this is the quintessential Wolfe novel. The esoteric language employed forces your eyes to slow down and read with great care. So many of the words, while supposedly all authentic English words, are unfamiliar that looking up at least a handful of them is necessary to understand the text. As a result, the reader’s mind has time to explore Severian’s world as the protagonist himself is doing. The printed books are heavy in the hand and the weight of the pages fore and aft serve as constant reminders of what has come before, and what is yet to be.
The most telling observation I can give about the audio book is that it transforms a massive tome into a much more personal narrative. As an audio book TBNS takes on a less intimidating, much more intimate and even more friendly character. The inexorable pacing of the narrator, Jonathan Davis, does not permit pauses for reflection, or speculation, the story plows on, without pausing to try to pronounce a word, without going back to regain the flow of the plot after a difficult flashback. And it is just fine.
Jonathan Davis is a most excellent narrator for TBNS. His voice has a deep calming quality that is well suited to recounting Severian’s story. He gives each character their own individual voice. He gives a fine performance ranking this among my favorite audio books. I can recommend all four of the volumes of TBNS here on Audible without reservation.
Note: The short afterwards that are part of each of the four volumes are not included in the audio versions. They should be read to get the full effect intended by the author Gene Wolfe.
This book is important. I can tell just be reading it. I should have read this years and years ago. My entire mood has been thrown off by this book. I find myself really beside myself. I pride myself on getting things. I have to try so hard to get this book it makes me mad. Compelling, confusing, colossal. Three words that really sum up the series. How can I explain any better? Read it, and judge for yourself.
Perhaps my taste in science fiction is a bit puerile, but I found this book to be only somewhat enjoyable. Very often, the "author" Severian will go on extremely lengthy and esoteric digressions about Wolfe knows what. As the book progressed, I grew to expect these frustrating breaks from what tend to be interesting and (also) esoteric characters. The lore is a mystery, the world is a mystery, the characters are a mystery. Very little is fleshed out in this book, and as confused as you are when it starts, you will be doubly so by the end when even more names, religions, and legends are introduced. I continue the series as a loyal Jonathan Davis listener (Snow Crash is a masterpiece), and to see if any of my multitude of questions are answered. If you have the patience to try and absorb the wash of information (largely unexplained) that will be thrown your way, I would give this a try. If nothing else, the imagery is always vivid and intense, even if you have no idea what the deuce is going on.