the Little Red Reviewer

A little further into The Book of the New Sun

Posted on: November 16, 2017


I’m moving through The Book of the New Sun at a pretty good pace.

I’d planned to do two posts for The Claw of the Conciliator, so I could see how my thoughts changed from halfway through the book to when I finished it.  I zipped through most of the book over last weekend, and by the time I was ready to write a post, I was only 20 pages from the end. So I finished it, and a few hours later, picked up the third book in the series.


Claw of the Conciliator is leaps and bounds more interesting than Shadow of the Torturer. For the length of the first book, we’re getting to know Severian, finding our footing in the world, de-coding weird words, and we’re just along for the ride. In Claw,  Severian finally gets a chance to see the larger world, his eyes are opened a little bit as to why the world is the way it is, and we start to see the consequences of some of his earlier decisions.  Also? Jonas and the Antechamber!!


But before we get to Jonas, new words!  Not as many as I expected:












I already cried a bit on twitter about Jonas.  Oh how I love Jonas!  I was fascinated by how he avoids certain conversations, and gives Severian answers that sound vague to naive Severian, but make a ton of sense if you know where Jonas came from.  I think Severian did eventually figure out, maybe? He was at least open to whatever Jonas wanted to tell him. I kept thinking about how language requires a frame of reference, and Jonas and Severian have different frames of reference. At this point in his life, Severian is still very sheltered, and Jonas, well, isn’t.  I hope we run into Jonas again. He was good for Severian.   Jonas and Dorcas seem to serve a similar purpose – to show Severian that the world is bigger than just himself.  Those two have histories, lives, and dreams that are completely outside their relationship with Severian.


The Antechamber!  When I figured out what the room was, and why these people were there, holy shit!  It’s not a prison, not exactly. And I can why people don’t want to leave. They are waiting for something to happen, and it hasn’t happened yet, so they don’t want to leave and risk missing it.   It’s like the rest of the House Absolute was built around this space.


And that dinner with Vodalus, and what they ate!  That is a royally fucked up (yet utterly brilliant) way to share someone’s memories, i can see why it is considered taboo.  But it seems to work?  Severian now knows all this stuff he didn’t know before.  I wonder what happens to the people who attend many dinners of this type, or specific dinners. Like, the whole thing is gross, but a super fascinating idea. Imagine if the alien critter that allows this to happen showed up on an episode of Doctor Who.

Oh, I guess i better mention the letter? You know, one that’s a trap?  What is it with a certain woman who won’t leave Severian alone? It’s like everytime she shows up Severian discovers something new about the Claw.  Very interesting! But she’s a bitch and I want to punch her.


Spoilery questions – don’t answer these! I haven’t finished the series yet!


  • Is the House absolute a crashed spaceship / colony ship?

– Is the Autarch physically incapable of interacting with other people? Is the Autarch dead?

– I have a note about something about an Ogre, and to find the Ogre you must “look for dark water”. Is the Ogre a metaphor for a ship that is leaking oil, or something in the sky that is stopping us from seeing the stars behind it?

– How in the hell is Severian running into the archivist and the man from House Azure again?


The play at the end with Dr. Talos. I need to read that entire portion again.  The further I get into this series, the more framing devices show up, with people telling stories that someone else had told them, people sharing fairy tales and myths, and plays that are either references or performed.  I get this strong feeling that as soon as I finish this series (which aughta be around Thanksgiving), that i pick up Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicles.


And the final spoilery bit is something Jolenta says:


“The One Autarch, whose dreams are our reality, whose memories are our history”.


Yeah, something tells me that line is going to prove important!  Also, Jolenta can’t possibly be what she seems.  And Jonas being who he is, is he in love with her for purely carnal reasons?  Jolenta is a classically beautiful woman, so Wolfe could have any male character fall head over heels for her. So why Jonas? Me thinks there is something else going on here.


8 Responses to "A little further into The Book of the New Sun"

“The Ogre” refers to the story Severian reads to Jonas, yes? I don’t think it has ramifications for the rest of the Book, but it illustrates how myths and stories get transformed and conflated with time. It’s the story of Theseus, whose name gets conflated with “thesis” (hence the Student spending all his time dreaming him up) and the Minotaur gets conflated with the old ironclad warship, the USS Monitor.

Not a spoiler: Severian met the Autarch in Claw. He says as much, though the paragraph in which he does so confused the heck out of me the first time I read it.

Gene Wolfe is Catholic, so the ingesting of memories is like a twisted version of the Eucharist. (And did you notice afterward how Thecla would take over the role of narrator from time to time?)


Agree that Claw is more interesting than the first one.


Definitely some new words in these books. I stopped after Claw because Severian became a bit intolerable for me. But it was still fascinating. I keep hoping that one of these days I’ll go back to it.


I like your questions – mostly because they remind me just how much there was the Book that I paid attention to at the time but have since completely forgotten about. I have a few vague ideas about answers to some of your questions, but others I can’t even remember enough to make the question make sense!

[I do remember I really liked the House Absolute bits, though. Am I right in thinking you actually see some cacogens around then, too? I like the cacogens…]


Just wanted to wish you a Happy Thanksgiving tomorrow, kiddo.

I’m brining the turkey tonight, it goes in the oven at Noon tomorrow. Drop by any time.


if I start driving now, I’ll be there in time for dinner! I’ve never brined before. E-mail me your secret recipe?


Great blog – interesting stuff.
I read Shadow and Claw a few months ago and remember having some mixed feelings about it. On the one hand I wasn’t too keen on the idea of the central character, who we’re presumably supposed to be rooting for, training to be a professional torturer, but on the other I felt myself being pulled into the larger story: I like the way that the fantasy setting is gradually revealing itself as science fiction. Must get round to reading the rest of the series. Thanks for reminding me.


For what it’s worth, after the first few chapters there isn’t much focus on Severian’s occupation as a torturer. He leaves the city, has adventures, etc. And yes, I love the “sci-fantasy” environs. I do love stories that take place so far in the future that people have forgotten things that you and I take for granted.

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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