Saturday, April 30, 2011

Shadow of the Torturer, by Gene Wolfe

Shadow of the Torturer, by Gene Wolfe

In a strange contradiction, I both didn’t care for this book and at the same time couldn’t put it down. The book has such abrupt direction changes between sections at times it feels more like a collection of short stories with a common hero than an actual novel. The first person narration is flat and unemotional, but instead of being boring it fits the character as his training to be a torturer is supposed to numb his feelings. The plot staggers between vignettes rather clumsily, but an undertone of commentary on humanity is a constant throughout; being delivered through the words of someone causing intentional pain for a living give the analysis a solid weight. Religion, for instance, is aptly summed up: “the authority that punishes no one while there exists a chance for reformation will punish everyone when there is no possibility anyone will become the better for it.”

While I found the plot pedestrian, the writing itself is magnificent. “The vanishing sun, whose disc was now a quarter concealed behind the impenetrable blackness of the Wall, had dyed the sky with gamboge and cerise, vermillion and lurid violet. These colors, falling upon the throng of monomachists and loungers much as we see the aureate beams of divine favor fall on heirarchs in art, lent them an appearance insubstantial and thaumaturgic, as though they had all been produced a moment before by the flourish of a cloth and would vanish into the air again at a whistle.” This rich verbiage kept me enthralled throughout, even where the actual story flagged. The ending is entirely too brusque; I understand this is the first volume of a tetralogy, but the plot simply stops dead with the narrator literally taking a break from the storytelling. “Here, I pause. If you wish to walk no farther with me, reader, I cannot blame you.” Glad to know I won’t be blamed, as I don’t expect to read the next book.

First Sentence:
It is possible I already had some presentiment of my future.

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