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Fantasy Friday – The Claw of the Conciliator

Claw of the Conciliator by Gene Wolfe

Review by Bowden P. (Trey)

Not as good as The Shadow of the Torturer, but still very, very good. Four-and-a-half stars.

The Claw of the Conciliator picks up shortly after The Shadow of the Torturer ended with Severian preparing for a pair of executions at a festival at the town of Saltus. Jonas is present as his aide. Of the rest of the troupe, they cannot be found. The local alcalde retained them for a pair of executions. One is a spy for Vodalus, the other is Morwenna a woman who may have poisoned her husband and son. I say may because someone else confesses to the crimes. That doesn’t move the legalist Severian and he carries out the execution and torture so quickly as to be merciful.

From there Severian walks into a transparently obvious trap and from the pan to the fire. While Severian does pick up the idiot ball with this, it does allow Wolfe to show off how old the world is, with a mine that is the ruins of a high tech city. It also allows him to introduce the Morlock like ape men. Then he meets Vodalus again and is a guest of honor at a ritual cannibal feast with Thecla as the entrée. All of this to more tightly bind Vodalus’ followers to him. With this in place, Vodalus sets Severian a task at the House Absoloute. There, he re-encounters the troupe, carries out his mission and makes a decent guide to the House Absoloute, courtesy of Thecla’s memories. I could go into more detail, and even though the book is almost thirty years old, I’m loathe to spoil it for people discovering it for the first time.

It’s a very good book. Not as good as The Shadow of the Torturer, but still very good. What makes it weaker than the first?

  • Getting used to the techniques Wolfe uses – they aren’t as novel any more.
  • Sub-elements (“The Student and His Son” and “Eschatology and Genesis”) were both very good throwing the rest of the book into relief.
  • Realizing we aren’t seeing as much of the world as it seemed in The Shadow of the Torturer.

Still, for the flaws, Gene Wolfe is who writers want to write like when they grow up.

Verdict: Four and ½ Stars

Likes: Severian is growing as a character (against my memories as a twenty year old, he seems real); He drops hints that he’s risen high in the world, the question remains how high? “Genesis and Eschatology” was very good reminding me of John M. Ford and Shakespeare; “The Student and His Son” was a wonderful fairy tail retelling of Theseus and the Minotaur with a unique feel; Baldanders and Talos – we’re seeing something new here between those two; Poor Jolenta, she paid far too high a price for beauty; Mysteries are still there – the man in the crypt from The Shadow of the Torturer is a pre-Columbian ruler, but how did he get there? What are the witches up to? And what is the Autarch playing at?

Dislikes: Not too many – the setting seems smaller than in The Shadow of the Torturer; The future is grim given the fate of the city in the mines of Saltus.

Suggested for: Same as The Shadow of the Torturer – fans of Gene Wolfe, science fantasy, the New Weird, Jack Vance. Also for anyone who enjoys a book that can be a bit of a challenge.


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