Summary: The Shadow of the Torturer


The book opens with the protagonist, Severian, barely surviving a swim in the River Gyoll. Severian is an apprentice in the torturers' guild. On his way back home to the Citadel, where the guild makes its 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. 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 journeyman on the Feast of Holy Katherine. He next encounters and falls in love with Thecla, a beautiful aristocratic prisoner. Her status permits her some luxuries, including the books that Severian is sent to obtain from the Master Ultan, the librarian.

When finally Thecla is put to torture, Severian takes pity on her and helps her commit suicide, by smuggling a knife into her cell, thus breaking an oath to his guild. Though Severian expects to be tortured and executed, instead he is dispatched to Thrax, a distant city which has need of an executioner. Master Palaemon gives Severian a letter of introduction to the archon of the city and Terminus Est, a magnificent executioner's sword. He departs the guild headquarters, traveling through the city of Nessus.

He comes to an inn, where he first meets Baldanders and Dr. Talos. The are 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.

Not intending to participate, 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 immediately takes interest in Terminus Est. Severian refuses to sell the sword, 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, Agia, 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 Agia is accused of stealing a precious artifact. After Agia is searched and released, they continue their journey to the Botanic Gardens, a large landmark of Nessus created by the mysterious Father Inire, right hand to the Autarch.

Inside, they visit several engrossing gardens. Severian falls into a lake used to inter the dead, and while emerging finds a young woman named Dorcas to have come up from the lake as well. Dazed and confused, the woman follows Severian and Agia. Severian secures the avern and the group proceeds 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, Agia's brother Agilus. Severian wins the duel amid some confusion. The next day, he is requested to perform an execution. The client is his challenger, Agia's brother, whom he executes.

Severian and Dorcas return to their travels and encounter Dr. Talos and Baldanders, who are almost ready to perform the play they had invited Severian to that morning. Severian assists in the play, and the next day the group sets out toward The Piteous Gate leading out through the great wall of Nessus. When they are in the gate, there is suddenly a commotion and the volume abruptly ends.

An appendix follows.

The Shadow of the Torturer

Chapter I: Resurrection and Death

Severian, an apprentice of the Torturer's Guild, is returning late to the guild with his fellows after a swim (described in Chapter 2). To save time they decide to cut through the necropolis. A citizen guard finds them, nervous of corpse-takers, but lets them go. Vodalus, a famous rebel/bandit, appears and a fight ensues. Severian aids Vodalus, claiming to be his supporter, and is rewarded with a coin.

Chapter II: Severian

Severian briefly describes the necropolis, then how the torturers recruit boys so they do not know their ancestry. He describes one mausoleum he "adopted" as his own hiding place. He then goes back to describe how he had nearly drowned while swimming on the afternoon of the evening described in Chapter 1, trapped in the roots of the nenuphar plants; had a vision of the late Master Malrubius; and was propelled from the water as if thrown.

Chapter III: The Autarch's Face

Severian describes the layout of the Matachin Tower (where the Torturers live and work). Master Palaemon brings Severian and other apprentcies to see some work done the night before, a woman who moans that "She's with Vodalus of the Wood." Severian looks at the coin Vodalus gave him and is surprised to find it a gold chrisos, stamped with the Autarch's androgynous face on one side and, on the other, a symbol (a flying ship) he recognizes from "his" mausoleum. He brings it to the mausoleum and hides it with a spell. A friend tells him of the Autarch's House Absolute, hidden far outside the Citadel (where the Tower stands) and even the vast City (where the Citadel stands, half-forgotten).

Chapter IV: Triskele

One winter, Severian found and secretly nursed a large dog that had lost a leg at the Bear Tower. A week later, the dog, Triskele, vanished into the tunnels under the Citadel, which connect to the dungeons. Looking for him, Severian became lost in the tunnels and arrived at the gardens of the Atrium of Time, where he met Valeria, a young woman whose family is in decline, she says. Triskele appears again a few times, and then vanishes in the spring.

Chapter V: The Picture-Cleaner and Others

As his friends Drotte and Roche are promoted to journeyman, Severian becomes the senior apprentice. He is given better food and more interesting work. Master Gurloes sends him to bring a message to the archivist. He meets an old man cleaning pictures, Rudesind the Curator who, after some discussion of art, directs him to the archivist.

Chapter VI: The Master of the Curators

Severian finds Master Ultan the curator, and finds he is blind and cannot read the message. Ultan tells Severian of the Book of Gold: if a child finds and reads this book, he is inducted into the Guild of Curators. Ultan's apprentice, Cyby, reads the letter, which is a request for four books, and is sent to fetch them. One of the four books is Wonders of Urth and Sky, from which Severian will read at later times.

Chapter VII: The Traitress

The books are intended for the Chatelaine Thecla, a new "client" who is to be treated with some courtesy while awaiting her fate. Severian meets her while distributing food to the prisoners, and delivers the books, slightly bending the rules to do so. They converse about her presence in the cell. Two days later, Master Gurloes summons Seerian and assigns him to converse with Thecla - as a courtesy. Gurloes also promises to send Severian to learn the ways of the flesh with a woman, as a precaution against his doing so with Thecla.

Chapter VIII: The Conversationalist

Severian begins holding nightly conversations with Thecla. She expects to be released at any time and speaks of founding a new religion. Master Gurloes keeps his promise: Severian's immediate senior in the Guild, Roche, a new journeyman, takes him to the Echopraxia, a district of bordellos.