Sunday, October 3, 2021

Shadow & Claw (The Book of the New Sun #1-2 )


Shadow & Claw is the first half of the Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe. Originally published in 1994, this reformat and re-release by Macmillan on their Tor Forge imprint was released 8th June 2021. This edition is part of the Tor Essentials collection. It's 512 pages and is available in hardcover and ebook formats. 

I distinctly remember reading this at release almost 30 years ago. I found it, then and now, disturbing and unsettling (completely intentional on the author's part) as well as bluntly (but not at all simply) written. I agree with Wolfe's adherents, including Gaiman, who proclaim his genius long and loud. There certainly aren't many books in the genre which can be legitimately be compared to Book of the New Sun in scope or reach. The problem is that it's also been misread as a rallying cry in fandom, drawing the less savory fans who enjoy the torture porn layers of the book without considering what Wolfe was really trying to *say*. I've heard it attributed to Jonathan Swift, that readers had never read Gulliver's Travels because they read it too young. I believe that a similar mechanism occurs here as well. Readers who read through the text and interpret it as a dark tale of torture and retribution with well oiled swords (*snerk*), obscene systemic misogyny, and torture with a side order of more torture have missed the point. 

This is a nuanced read and will repay close attention and contemplation during reading. At the same time, much of the book is graphically violent and difficult to read for anyone with any empathy whatsoever. Trigger warnings abound - suicide, body horror, torture, rape, degradation, physical violence and more. 

Three and a half stars. Difficult to read. Impressive and perennial. It belongs with the classics of the genre but I cannot say I enjoyed reading it either time and I don't know that I'll be revisiting it. 

Disclosure: I received an ARC at no cost from the author/publisher for review purposes.

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