The Shadow of the Torturer

Gene Wolfe
The Shadow of the Torturer Cover

The Shadow of the Torturer


This was something of a revelation.

I have the Victor Gollancz 50th edition which combines this with the second novel Claw of the Concilliator and this includes breathless praise from Kim Stanley Robinson, Ursula Le Guin, George R. R. Martin and Alastair Reynolds. Based on the first novel this seems to be deserved.

Severin a an apprentice torturer, expelled from his guild and dispatched to the town of Thrax to become their executioner. The plot is relatively straightforward, avoiding the vast cast of characters of something like A Song of Ice and Fire, but yet there is so much to enjoy here.

Wolfe's prose will, I suspect, not be to everybody's taste, but I fell in love with it. The first third of the book, set in the citadel is able to convey an overpowering sense of ruin and decay, while later action sequences are genuinely exciting. The dialogue is often far from natural, but is in keeping with the style and carries its own charm.

The worldbuilding is extensive, but subtle, maintaining a sense of mystery and wonder.