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Publisher's Summary

The Shadow of the Torturer is the first volume in the four-volume epic, the tale of a young Severian, an apprentice to the Guild of Torturers on the world called Urth, exiled for committing the ultimate sin of his profession - showing mercy towards his victim.
Listen to more in the Book of the New Sun series.
©1980 Gene Wolfe; (P)2009 Audible, Inc.

Critic Reviews

"The best science fiction novel of the last century." (Neil Gaiman)
  • World Fantasy Award, Best Novel, 1981
  • Favorite Audiobooks of 2010 (Fantasy Literature)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

Overall

  • 3.7 out of 5.0
  • 5 Stars
    553
  • 4 Stars
    390
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    299
  • 2 Stars
    152
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    137

Performance

  • 4.1 out of 5.0
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    562
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    163
  • 2 Stars
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Story

  • 3.8 out of 5.0
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  • 1 Stars
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  • Story

Seeking Truth and Penitence

This is the first in Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun series. It's a grim science fiction at its finest, yet framed more in the spirit of fantasy novels with heroic quests. This is the autobiography of Severian, apprentice member of the Torturer's Guild in a future world where the Earth is in decline and the Sun is going out. Past that I can't say much more because this novel has quite a few twists and turns that I wouldn't dare spoil for you.

Also, Jonathan Davis' performance is outstanding. I hadn't previously liked his work very much, but here he is flawless. He perfectly captures the lyrical, philosophical, yet deeply grim atmosphere of Severian's narration and Wolfe's world of the New Sun. I highly recommend this novel.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Story

A masterpiece read brilliantly

If you could sum up The Shadow of the Torturer in three words, what would they be?

Compelling, intriguing, beautiful

Who was your favorite character and why?

Severian. His view of the world in which he lives is coloured and shaped in a manner that draws you deeply into the story.

What about Jonathan Davis’s performance did you like?

No bombast. And brilliant characterization. The speed is just right - sometimes the readers push too hard and you lose content or move too slowly and your concentration lapses.

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

I know the book. I've lost count of how many times I have read the whole series. But Jonathon Davis brought the book alive and I found more value in Gene Wolfe's remarkable masterpiece than I had known was there.

Any additional comments?

This is not a book to everyone's taste. But everyone should try reading it - or listening to it. Its one of the great science fiction masterpieces. One reviewer referred to Gene Wolfe's "achingly beautiful sentences" and Jonathon Davis savours them, holds them up to marvel at then moves to the next one.

5 of 6 people found this review helpful

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Classic SF literature; excellent reading

"The Book of the New Sun" is one of science fiction's greatest works of literature--dense, elliptical, allusive and elusive--and Jonathan Davis reads the challenging text (which uses many archaic words to create the feeling of a time removed from the present that's still linked to the past) with superb sensitivity. Gene Wolfe's narrator Severian is a careful, methodical person, which helps modulate the book's bizarre and confusing world (which looks and feels like fantasy but is actually SF), and Davis strikes just the right tone of hushed deliberation to anchor the listener without overplaying the parts and turning it into a more dramatic or mannered "performance."

A must for anyone interested in classic SF or simply good writing. Audible Frontiers, more Gene Wolfe, please!

5 of 6 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Haunting

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.

8 of 10 people found this review helpful

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Too abstract for an audiobook

The narrative style of this book is one that I don't really enjoy in the first place. There is no active voice to be found, and the plot advances by fairly insignificant and underwhelming things just happening rather than being effected by the protagonist. This makes the story hard enough to follow in print where you can flip back a few pages to remind yourself how things progressed from A to B, but I constantly lost the thread while listening and often found myself completely bewildered. The narrator does a great job, though, which is a big plus if this is your kind of book.

4 of 5 people found this review helpful

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Languid, lush, dark speculative fiction

This is a highly literary work of dark fantasy, or properly speaking, dark science fiction, as the world of Urth slowly unveiled to us, with its dying red sun and distant, populated stars from which have been brought back alien creatures and plants, is a possible vision of our own world in the far future.

Severian is a young apprentice in the guild of torturers. As sinister as that sounds, Severian, who has grown up with his guild, accepts it as a matter of course, thinking of his job as being no different from any other. The torturers are just working professionals going about their job of punishment and interrogation in the name of the law. This changes for Severian when he forms an attachment to a beautiful woman brought in for "indefinite detainment." It turns out that her sister is connected to a rebel named Vodalus, a rogue whom Severian had a secret encounter with earlier.

After the prisoner is subjected to a horrible, soul-destroying device, Severian gives her the means to end her own torment rather than dying slowly. This act of mercy is both unprofessional and a complete betrayal of his guild, but for political reasons, they cannot simply kill him. Thus, Severian is sent as "Carnifex," or executioner, to a distant village named Thrax.

The rest of the book is taken up by the beginning of Severian's journey to Thrax - though in fact he never actually makes it out of the vast, future-gothic city where he started. Along the way, he acquires a magic sword and a magic ring (not really "magic," but thematically, same difference), he runs into a brother-sister pair of shopkeepers, falls in love with the sister, finds a crazy girl who falls in love with him, and is challenged to a duel to the death with razor-sharp alien flowers as the weapons.

It's a slightly bizarre setting with clues as to its nature dropped abruptly in the middle of long stretches of descriptive prose. Gene Wolf's lush, languid writing is quite a nice treat compared to the turgid prose of less skilled writers in this genre trying to accomplish the same effect, but it demands patience and you have to pay attention or you'll miss something. This isn't a fast-paced book; the infrequent action scenes seem to move no more quickly than the philosophical dialog or the exposition.

It's enjoyable for those who like their sci-fi with a side of literary, but if you want answers, or resolution, you're going to have delve into the next book in the series, because this is only the start of Severian's journey to the throne (a fact he tells us nearly at the outset), and ends thus:


Here I pause, having carried you, reader, from gate to gate. From the locked and fog-shrouded gate of our necropolis to this gate, with its curling wisps of smoke. This gate, which is perhaps the largest in existence, perhaps the largest ever to exist. It was by entering that first gate that I set my feet upon the road that brought me to this second gate. And surely when I entered this second gate, I began to walk a new road. From that great gate forward, for a long time, it was to lie outside the City Imperishable, and among the forests and grasslands, mountains and jungles of the north. Here, I pause. If you wish to walk no farther with me, reader, I cannot blame you. It is no easy road.

4 of 5 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Slow start that gets better and better

The book starts out kind of slow but after a while it picks up speed and it was a really great "read". I highly recommend it.

4 of 5 people found this review helpful

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Good Narrator Can't Save Bloated Mediocrity

This "story" is a series of somewhat related and mostly dull things happening to a complete dud of a main character punctuated by a series of rambling asides by an author who seems to strongly disagree with the adage that 'brevity is the soul of wit.' This is unfortunate as the setting and general dark tone is amazing (a depressing distant future where a dying earth is so exhausted that human society has devolved into a warped and stagnant feudalism, WOW!) and instantly had me ready to experience this world through the initiative and story of it's main character, Severin. Instead Severin doesn't appear to have any initiative (beyond the one act that launches this story) nor is he particularly redeemable so the story becomes a series of things that just sort of happen to him and since I never developed any feelings about him (beyond a mild distaste and wishing he'd 'get on with it'), I had pretty much no investment in anything Jonathan Davis rambled at me. Protagonists don't have to be swashbuckling heroes who save the world but they need to be something, ANYTHING.

The utter banality of the story and characters isn't helped at all by Wolfe taking fortune cookie level observations and stretching them into 20 pages of allegorical flashbacks (ugh flashbacks) with some of the most overly wordy prose I've ever experienced. And in relation to the plot or character development? All in service of nothing.

In the interest of fairness, I think this book may be EXTREMELY unsuitable for audio format and I suspect even a fan of the book would agree (in the context of suggesting this to a newbie). A slow-burn story punctuated by barely related asides all written in extremely ponderous language makes it difficult to keep focused at times and the format doesn't offer the same quick reference that a text version does. I think I'm too soured on this experience to spend more on this book but I suspect I would have liked this book more ('liked it more', not 'liked it') had I read it rather than listened.

Jonathan Davis: I don't 'follow' narrators in any sense but would certainly consider a Jonathan Davis performance to be a plus if a book I was interested in had him. He has a pleasant if somewhat languid tone (works well with the feel of this story) that I definitely enjoyed. As I made clear above, I did NOT like this book and especially disliked the main character but in the context of a detached and somewhat emotionless main character, Davis' performance is superb. To be balanced (and explain my 4 star performance rating vs. max 5), his female voice is just terrible!

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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You'll be disappointed by the ending

What made the experience of listening to The Shadow of the Torturer the most enjoyable?

The story does a good job at engaging the reader, but in the end the reason for the separation is not clear and the book seems to simply end without rhyme or reason.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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bleh

love the language and sound, can't care enough about main character to overcome revulsion that prevented me from finishing

1 of 1 people found this review helpful