The Claw of the Conciliator


  • First publication Timescape hardcover, 1981; jacket painting by Don Maitz


  • 1981 Nebula Award
  • 1982 Locus Award


Complete plot summary -- SPOILERS
The Claw of the Conciliator is the second volume of the four-volume Book of the New Sun, which is itself the first part of the twelve-volume "Solar" or "Briah" cycle.

After editing The Shadow of the Torturer for Simon and Schuster, editor David G. Hartwell moved to Timescape, and was permitted to take the remainder of the series with him.

  • Sources of quotes
    • Epigraph for The Claw of the Conciliator:
    In The Castle of the Otter, Gene Wolfe writes:
    The Claw of the Conciliator opens with a quotation from Gertrude von Le Fort, about whom I know next to nothing except that she wrote the lines I borrowed:
    But strength still goes out from your thorns,
    and from your abysses the sound of music.
    Your shadows lie on my heart like roses
    and your nights are like strong wine.
    which I think very beautiful.
    They are indeed very beautiful and yet their source has apparently never been noted in any work about Wolfe.
    It is Hymns to the Church, by Gertrude von Le Fort, translated into English by Margaret Chanler, Sheed & Ward, New York, 1937.
    Originally published in Germany in 1924 as Hymnen an die Kirche.
    It has long been out of print in America and is quite rare, but is still in print in Germany and France.
    The lines Gene quoted can be found on page 17 of the American edition.
    Thanks to Robert Corzine at, who recognized the quoted passage.
  • Meanings of names
  • References to other works
  • Etc.


Unanswered Questions


  • Timescape hardcover:
    • Jacket flaps:
    Rarely has a science fiction/fantasy novel received the kind of critical acclaim that greeted Gene Wolfe's The Shadow of the Torturer, Volume One of The Book of the New Sun. Ursula K. Le Guin called it "the first volume of a masterpiece." The Claw of the Conciliator is the second volume of this momentous work.

    the Book of the New Sun is set a million years in teh future, on an Earth transformed in mysterious and wonderful ways, and in a time when our present culture is no longer even a memory.

    The Shadow of the Torturer introduced Severian, a torturer exiled for falling in love with one of his victims and allowing her to take her own life rather than be subjected to the highly refined methods of torture Severian has been so carefully trained in. In Volume Two, Severian is in possession of a gem considered to be "The Claw of teh Conciliator," a powerful relic of the Master of Poewr, a legendary figure of mythic proportions. Armed with his sword, Terminus Est, and the Claw, Severian continues his journey to Thrax, the city of his exile. On the way he encounters such wonders as the apelike creatures with glowing, hairy bodies and human intelligence in their eyes, who fight Severian with an intensity and strength such that it seems they ust surely slay him; the bizarre cannibalistic ritual which infuses Severian with the memories and thoughts of his dead beloved Thecla; the rooms of mirrorlike surfaces into which Jonas, Severian's not-quite-mortal companion, disappears; and the dazzling Vatic Fountain, into which Severian tosses an offering to learn his destiny.

    Evocative, profound, hypnotic, The Claw of the Conciliator is a novel of dreamlike beauties and awesome terrors, the second volume of a masterwork.

    Volume Three of The Book of the New Sun, will appear at the end of 1981.

    Gene Wolfe is best known as the writer of nearly a hundred science fiction short stories and novellas, one of which, The Death of Doctor Island, won the Nebula Award. His book The Fifth Head of Cerberus has been widely praised. Wolfe and his wife and four children live in Barrington, Illinois, where he writes five pages every day on one of two ancient IBM typewriters.
    • Back cover:
    "Every page, every paragraph, almost every sentence has wondrous ideas.... Wolfe's vocabulary is also staggering; word collectors will have a field day figuring out which are of his invention, which are real....The Shadow of the Torturer is a strange and wonderful book, and I am going to have a hard time waiting for the second of the series.
    --Baird Searles, Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine
    "[The Shadow of the Torturer] is science fiction, wiht a depth of invention few writers are able to match. Wolfe creates not just one but many complex societies, not just a few but many fascinating characters. And his language is so exquisitely well crafted that his novel could be used as a course in writing all by itself....I recommend this book as one of the two or three best written books in the field of science fiction. Ever."
    --Orson Scott Card, Destinies
    "It takes a born artist even to propose a sympathetic story about an apprentice torturer's passage toward manhood, in a culture so intricately evolved that it no longer cares what starships were for. Wolfe does it in a style that combines the flavor of James Branch Cabell at his most picaresque and Guy Endore at his most somber; again, an accomplishment which must justify itself by nothing less than total success...What results is tense and ominously dark narrative...By the time the fourth volume appears, this Nebula-winning author will have become unchallengeable in a reputation as one of SF's most potent names."
    --Algis J. Budrys, Chicago Sun Times