The Claw of the Conciliator (1981)
Spine Front Cover Book Details
Gene Wolfe
Publication Date 1993
Format Leather-bound (225 x 145 mm)
Publisher The Easton Press
Genre Science Fiction
Product Details
Series Masterpieces of Science Fiction
No. of Pages 301
Paper Type Acid-neutral paper
First Edition No
Personal Details
URL This book on
Rating 9
No. of Reviews 110
Frontispiece/Illustrator Toni Taylor
Introduction/Foreward Joan Gordon
Original Details
Original Publisher Pocket Books
Original Publication Year 1981
One of the most acclaimed "science fantasies" ever, Gene Wolfe's The Book of the New Sun is a long, magical novel in four volumes. Shadow & Claw contains the first two: The Shadow of the Torturer and The Claw of the Conciliator, which respectively won the World Fantasy and Nebula Awards.
This is the first-person narrative of Severian, a lowly apprentice torturer blessed and cursed with a photographic memory, whose travels lead him through the marvels of far-future Urth, and who--as revealed near the beginning--eventually becomes his land's sole ruler or Autarch. On the surface it's a colorful story with all the classic ingredients: growing up, adventure, sex, betrayal, murder, exile, battle, monsters, and mysteries to be solved. (Only well into book 2 do we realize what saved Severian's life in chapter 1.) For lovers of literary allusions, they are plenty here: a Dickensian cemetery scene, a torture-engine from Kafka, a wonderful library out of Borges, and familiar fables changed by eons of retelling. Wolfe evokes a chilly sense of time's vastness, with an age-old, much-restored painting of a golden-visored "knight," really an astronaut standing on the moon, and an ancient citadel of metal towers, actually grounded spacecraft. Even the sun is senile and dying, and so Urth needs a new sun.

The Book of the New Sun is almost heartbreakingly good, full of riches and subtleties that improve with each rereading. It is Gene Wolfe's masterpiece. --David Langford,
Collector's Notes

The Claw of the Conciliator is the second volume of the epic of the far-future Earth (or Urth, as it is spelled in the novel) goes under the general title of The Book of the New Sun. The Shadow of the Torturer, the first novel in the tetralogy that turned into a quintology, has also been published in the Easton Press "Master pieces of Science Fiction" series.

The Book of the New Sun marked a new level of ambition and accomplishment for its author, Gene Wolfe. Up to the time of its publication, Wolfe was noted as a style-conscious author of exquisitely shaped short fiction that was praised by fellow writers and the more perceptive readers but may have seemed a bit demanding for the ordinary fan. After The Book of the New Sun, Wolfe was recognized as an author of the first rank.

Wolfe's abilities as a writer emerged relatively late. After serving in the Korean War and earning a degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Houston, he became a project engineer for Proctor and Gamble, and then senior editor of Plant Engineering. In 1967 his first SF short story was published in Orbit, and in 1973 he won a Nebula Award for "The Death of Doctor Island." His early stories were collected in The Fifth Head of Cerberus (1972), The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories and Other Stories (1980), and Gene Wolfe's Book of Days (1981). More recently Easton Press published his collection Endangered Species in its Signed First Editions of Science Fiction series.

In The Shadow of the Torturer, the concern for style and the embedded puzzle remained but were put to the service of a quest for meaning and self-discovery through a fantastic future world filled with monstrous creatures and people, startling events, and magical powers like the Claw of the Conciliator, which has the ability to cure wounds and diseases and even restore the dead to life.

Is it magic or science? Arthur C. Clarke's third law states that "a sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic," which brings a kind of magic to the service of science fiction. So it is in The Claw of the Conciliator; the entire Book of the New Sun may read like medieval fantasy, but all the events have rational explanations - or, at least, rational within Clarke's law and Wolfe's purpose.

To be sure, a number of readers had questions after finishing the final two volumes, The Sword of the Lictor (1982) and The Citadel of the Autarch (1983), and Wolfe wrote a fifth volume titled The Urth of the New Sun (1987) and a non-fiction book about the creation of the tetralogy, The Castle Of the Otter (1983), whose title Wolfe whimsically took from the title of the fourth volume as mis-reported (from a telephone conversation) in Locus magazine.

The Claw of the Conciliator won the Nebula, the World Fantasy, and the British Science Fiction Association Awards, The Sword of the Lictor won the British Fantasy Award, and The Citadel of the Autarch won the John W. Campbell Award for the best SF novel of the year.

Wolfe has continued to produce provocative fiction, including a historical fantasy series, beginning with Soldier of the Mist, about a preclassical Greek soldier whose head wound pre vents him from remembering his past from one day to the next, and a new tetralogy that began with Nightside the Long Sun about a generation starship that has replaced its sense of mission with wonders and mysteries.

Easton Press has commissioned a special introduction to its edition of The Claw of the Conciliator from Joan Gordon, who earned her Ph.D. in English with a specialty in science fiction from the University of Iowa. She wrote the Starmont Readers' Guides on Joe Haldeman and Gene Wolfe.