The Sword of the Lictor


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


  • 1983 Locus Award
  • 1983 August Derleth Award


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

  • Sources of quotes
  • Meanings of names
  • References to other works
  • Etc.


Unanswered Questions


  • Timescape hardcover:
    • Jacket flaps:
    Ursula K. Le Guin called The Shadow of the Torturer "the first volume of a masterpiece." It has been nominated for all the major fantasy and science fiction awards and has gathered praise far and wide as probably the most important work to appear in the field in the last ten years. The Claw of the Conciliator has been received with matching acclaim and the excitement mounts as more and more people are captured by the magic of a writer working at the peak of his form and creating something "totally original, new, incomparable."

    The Book of the New Sun is set a million years in the future of our Earth, on a planet transformed in ways inconceivable to our primitive technologies. What at first seems like magic turns out to be the remains of forgotten colossal technologies; our own civilization is so distant as to be no longer even a memory.

    The third volume, The Sword of the Lictor, continues the self-told tale of Severian, the torturer, and leads us both farther afield from the beginning and closer to the solution of the many mysteries posed in the opening volumes.

    Severian, exiled for the "sin" of mercy, has arrived at his assigned post as Lictor in Thrax, the City of Windowless rooms, and seems perpared to settle into the active, though somewhat grisly, life of a government functionary. Unsettling things begin to happen, however. His companion, Dorcas, leaves him and returns to the place where their journey together began, the Lake of Birds, where the dead lie. Severian is pursued by a deadly beast. He has begun to quesiton his role as Torturer and finally rejects his position and responsibility by letting a woman go free and fleeing the city himself.

    He heads into the mountains, survives another encounter with Agia, who has been trailing him in her continuing effort to exact vengeance for the death of her brother, and continues his flight with a young boy, his namesake, orphaned in an attack by an alzabo. Deeper into the mountains they go until they are captured by a band of men who wear metal talons on their fingers, only to be saved inadvertently by the monster who saved the boy's family. Further on, they enter a vast deserted city and accidentally revive a man whose body is inhabited by the soul of an ancient enemy of the Conciliator. The boy is killed by Severian kills the man, discharging an ancient debt of vengeance to the originator of his hidden weapon, the Claw.

    Alone again, he finds an isolated lake where shore-dwellers under the rule of the hidden master of a nearby castle wage a continuing war with a people who spend their lives on floating islands of reeds. Severian joins the floating people and helps them attack the castle, where he once again meets Baldanders and Doctor Talos and learns the secret of their relationship. But in the final battle Severian loses control of his body and wanders, all-unknowing, into his own yet-unguessable future destiny.

    With this series Gene Wolfe has come into his own as one of the true masters of science fiction and fantasy by creating a fascinating and absorbing tale that combines the best and most exciting aspects of both kinds of story in a truly unique and original way. Those who have not yet taken the opportunity to enter his world can only imagine the pleasures to be found therein and those who ahve done so have the privilege of recommending a truly excellent and rewarding reading experience to their friends.

    "It's not difficult to call him SF's best genuine novelist...By the time the forth volume appears, this Nebula-winning author will have become unchallengeable as one of SF's most potent names" -- Algis Budrys.

    The fourth and final volume to The Book of the New Sun, entitled The Citadel of the Autarch, will appear in late 1982.
    • Back cover:

Some comments on The Claw of the Conciliator, the
second volume of ''The Book of the New Sun

"...he is master rather than slave to the conventions of his form; his control of character and theme, most certainly his control of word and demonic.
"Yet with this precision there is in Wolfe's work an onrushing joy of invention, an almost arrogant piling up of images and ideas and exotic names....Gene Wolfe must be able to control even that notorious producer of art: the interface between the conscious and subconscious minds."

--The Philadelphia Inquirer

"Gene Wolfe is as good a writer as there is today....One fairly reliable test is in whether an artist appears likely to leave his medium fundamentally different from the way he found it. You can look in Wolfe's The Claw of the Conciliator and come away with the impression that not only speculative fiction but prose itself is being transformed in there....What he assuredly provides is one hell of a good read....I feel a little bit like a musical contemporary attempting to tell people what's good about Mozart."

--The Chicago Sun-Times

"Multi-volume series are a tiresome cliché in the fantasy field, but with the high standard he has set in the first two books, Wolfe makes us glad there are two more yet to come in Severian's story."

--Publishers Weekly

"Gene Wolfe earns increasing respect as a master orchestrator of the language....I must say that it held me magicked from beginning to end."

--Theodore Sturgeon

"Gene is so good he leaves me speechless....Every book that comes out seems to have superlatives all over the cover. What can you say to make people realize that this, for once, at last, is the real thing?"

--Ursula K. Le Guin