The Shadow of the Torturer by Gene Wolfe
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I was awash in strange expectations and assumptions before picking up this book, and after coming out the other side, I'm happy to say that this thoughtful novel pleased me.
It didn't wow me, but it certainly pleased me. I was very worried it wouldn't because the period of the late seventies and early eighties was a time of Fantasy that I just never really liked.
What? But this novel is SF!
Yes it is, and I loved all the old incorporation of alien life, our dying sun, quantum physics extrapolations and Odd Reality, but at its heart, the novel reads just like a Fantasy.
The apprentice must face a difficult choice, is engaged with wise old men, must suffer the consequences of his heroic and/or compassionate actions, and is thus expelled to make a way into the wide and difficult world carrying a sword and a complex menagerie of companions.
I might have balked at such a blatant use of tropes for an SF novel had it not also been full of characters I truly liked. What a relief! Plus, I'm a freaking sucker for libraries and book-talk, even when the books and philosophies entertained are of a far-off time and "supposedly" alien to us.
In point of fact, this far-off time feels more like a feudal dark-ages and I really got into the novel by the point it felt like a shadow of A Canticle for Leibowitz. It didn't end there, by far, but that was the point it grabbed me and didn't let go. :)
The rest of the adventure and the discussions of love and affection and sex, even with the societal ick of institutionalized sex-work, was somewhat hit-and-miss for me, though, but I couldn't help but be charmed by Severain's puppydog-outlook. It might annoy others, but it felt like some of the most genuine parts of the novel.
Lastly, I loved the world-building. It was all understated and slipped in so gently that we the readers were delightfully focused upon the characters long enough to be surprised by the full weight of the world. It didn't hit me over the head. Instead, it charmed. :)
I don't think I'm going to have any issues reading the rest of these novels, and that's a real surprise for me! Like I said, I have had a lot of bad experiences with Fantasy during this time period. But then, that begs the question, doesn't it? Maybe I'm simply freer with praise and lax criticism because it is, ostensibly, SF?
I admit I might be influenced by my expectations in both directions, but it doesn't change the fact that I liked the novel. :)
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