The Claw of the Conciliator

by Gene Wolfe

Cover image

Series: New Sun #2
Publisher: Pocket
Copyright: 1981
Printing: February 1982
ISBN: 0-671-41616-2
Format: Mass market
Pages: 255

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This is the second book of the Book of the New Sun, and the books are very tightly linked. You want to read The Shadow of the Torturer before reading this book.

This book continues on in much the same style as its predecessor — thoughtfully constructed, eloquent, and making me want to reach for a dictionary. Wolfe's command of language is truly impressive, as is the fact that the story remains quite readable and comprehensible without the dictionary.

These books reward very careful reading. I get the definite impression there are allusions and subtleties lurking below the surface of much of what's going on, and while I haven't been digging into the depths, I still have been getting glimpses of connections and enjoying the sudden revelation. Sometimes this can be a touch frustrating when the narrator refers to a name or place that I know I should remember and don't. I have a feeling these books will reward re-reading a great deal.

This chapter has more revelations about the nature and background of the world, one that I find fascinating. There is clear evidence of high technology, some of it ubiquitous, mixed in with the medieval culture. There are references to mechanisms of space travel, creatures from other worlds, and the distant past of Urth, dropped into the middle of what otherwise feels like a fantasy plot, but taken for granted by the characters. The feeling of depth created by that technique draws me in very effectively, leaving me trying to connect the dots and piece together the history while knowing that there's a near-inexhaustible supply of it.

Again, unfortunately, the book drifted off the tracks towards the middle and end, the plot lapsing a bit in places and, at the end of this book, going dry and less interesting. These are unfortunate mars on an otherwise excellently crafted story, and while the strong narrative voice helps keep the digressions interesting, I was again wishing for tighter pacing in some places. Even the long digressions have a charm, though; a long story in this book featured one of the most amusing metaphorical descriptions of a university that I've read.

Even with the wandering storyline, though, I liked this book. It's not quite as memorable as The Shadow of the Torturer, but it has several excellent moments. Recommended.

Again, the ending is abrupt, and you want to have the next book on-hand when you finish. This series is more one book than four separate ones.

Followed by The Sword of the Lictor.

Rating: 8 out of 10

Reviewed: 2004-06-17

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