The Shadow of the Torturer

infobox Book |
name = The Shadow of the Torturer
title_orig =
translator =

image_caption = Dust-jacket from the first edition
author = Gene Wolfe
illustrator =
cover_artist = Don Maitz
country = United States
language = English
series = The Book of the New Sun
genre = Science fiction
publisher = Simon & Schuster
release_date = 1980
english_release_date =
media_type = Print (Hardcover & Paperback)
pages = 303 pp
isbn = ISBN-10: 0671253255
followed_by = The Claw Of The Concilator
"The Shadow of the Torturer" is a science fiction novel by Gene Wolfe, first released in 1980. It is the first volume in the four-volume series, "The Book of the New Sun". Wolfe completed the series (in draft form) before "the Shadow of the Torturer" was published.

Plot introduction

It relates the story of Severian, an apprentice in the Seekers for Truth and Penitence (the guild of torturers), from his youth through his expulsion from the guild, and subsequent journey out of his home city of Nessus.

Plot summary

The book opens with Severian being rescued from drowning by a mysterious creature from the bottom of a lake. On his way home, Severian and several other apprentices sneak into a necropolis. This is where Severian first encounters Vodalus, the legendary revolutionary. Vodalus, along with two others, including a woman named Thea, are robbing a grave. No reason, however, is given why they are stealing a body. Vodalus and his companions are confronted by volunteer guards and a fight ensues. Severian saves Vodalus's life, earning his trust and the reward of a single gold coin.

Shortly thereafter, Severian is elevated to a journeyman on the Feast of Holy Katherine. He next encounters and falls in love with Thecla, a beautiful aristocratic prisoner. Thecla's crime is never made clear, though it is ultimately implied that she is imprisoned for political reasons. Thecla's sister is Thea, Vodalus' lover, and the Autarch (ruler of the kingdom) wishes to use Thecla to capture Vodalus. When finally Thecla is put to torture, Severian is unable to bear seeing her suffer and helps her commit suicide, by smuggling a knife into her cell.

Though Severian expects to be tortured and executed, instead the head of the guild is uncharacteristically forgiving and dispatches Severian to Thrax, a distant city which has need of a carnifex, or executioner. He gives Severian a letter of introduction to the archon of the city and Terminus Est, a magnificient executioner's sword. He departs the guild, traveling through the decaying city of Nessus. He finally comes upon an inn, where he forces the innkeeper to take him in despite being crowded and is asked to share a room with other boarders. This is where he first meets Baldanders and Dr. Talos, two travelling mountebanks, who invite Severian to join them in a play to be performed the same day. During breakfast, Dr. Talos manages to recruit the waitress for his play and they set out into the streets. Severian parts with the group and stops at a rag shop to purchase a mantle to hide his fuligin cloak (the uniform of his guild, which inspires terror in common folk). The shop is owned by a twin brother and sister, and the brother attempts to buy Severian's sword for a very large price. Severian refuses, shortly after which a masked and armoured hipparch enters the shop and challenges Severian to a duel. Severian is forced to accept, and he departs with the sister to secure an avern, a deadly plant that is used for dueling. While on their way, urged by Agia's bet to a passing fiacre, their driver crashes into and destroys the altar of a religious order, where they are accused of stealing a precious artifact. After their search and release,they continue their journey to the botanic gardens for the avern.

Inside the gardens, Severian falls into a lake, and while pulling himself out he finds a young woman named Dorcas to have come up from the lake as well. Severian secures the avern and proceed to an inn near the dueling grounds. While eating dinner, Severian receives a mysterious note warning about one of the women. After dinner, Severian meets with his challenger, and though stabbed by the avern he miraculously survives and finds that his challenger was the male owner of the rag shop. When Severian wakes again, he finds himself to be in a lazaret. After finding Dorcas and identifying himself, he is requested to perform an execution as a carnifex. The prisoner turns out to be his challenger, whom he executes. Severian and Dorcas return to their travels and encounter Dr. Talos and Baldanders. Severian assists in the play, and the next day the group sets out towards the great gate leading out of Nessus. When they are at the gate, there is suddenly a commotion and the narration abruptly ends.


"Shadow" was nominated for a John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer and won the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel.


*cite web
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title = Internet Speculative Fiction Database
work =
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accessdate = 2008-08-18

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