I have recently finished Gene Wolfe’s The Shadow of the Torturer. Rather than calling this a review, my words better deserve to be called thoughts. This book’s complexity eschews giving the reader a good enough understanding for a review upon a single reading. One would need to have read the entire series once and this book a second time in order to know it thoroughly enough for review. What makes matters particularly difficult is that Severian, the main character, admits to being a liar and feels like he does not always have a proper grip on reality. My dear readers, if they wish to gain a more thorough grasp of the book’s complexity, should read Josh W’s excellent chapter by chapter analyses, which have presently covered up to chapter four.
Having written that, The Shadow of the Torturer stands as a science fiction work which feels like a fantasy work. For example, I would never have caught the fact that the torturer’s guild located itself inside an old spaceship without Josh W’s pointing it out. After all, the weapons and transportation are very primitive. The capital city feels as though it could fit inside the world of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time.
You noticed that I mentioned a torturer’s guild? Our main character happens to have been apprenticed to it while still a young child. He does accept the arrangement himself once he comes of age, and this leads to him having affection for a prisoner named Thecla. She is convinced that the Autarch, the ruler of this land, will let her go without being put through excruciation, as the torturers call it. This proves to be a false hope, and Severian commits the offense of enabling her to commit suicide. For this he is exiled to a northern city, but Severian’s adventures do not see him outside the walls by the end of this work.
The reader must keep in mind that this work is incredibly introspective. Much of it deals with Severian’s perception of reality and philosophical meditations. The reader also needs to pay close attention in order to catch discrepancies in the text. This is not to say that a casual reading brings no enjoyment. I read the novel in exactly that manner, after all! But, catching all the nuances to the work will bring the reader the much pleasure. I would not be surprised if the novel could stand up to three or four readings at least before its ideas become exhausted.
A very intelligent and fun read, which takes a look at the darker side of human nature.