Shadow of the Torturer, by Gene Wolfe

I listened to this recently on Audible, and it was not what I expected.

Though this is marketed as a sci-fi, the setting is really more of a medieval/fantasy type world. The prose is also very dramatic, dark and flowery, which seems more fit to a fantasy novel.

The main character being a torturer who lives in a citadel and wears robes and performs rituals is another example how unusual this is for a sci fi novel.

The world, though, is very interesting. You get little hints here and there about what kind of world it might be, and figure out pretty early on that the ‘ancients’ used to fly between the stars and left behind strange devices none of which anyone understands.

It’s such a perfectly balanced handing out of clues and nuggets that I didn’t even realize how interested I was until the book ended, and my main driver for wanting to read the sequel was not curiosity about what happens to any of the characters, but to learn more about the world.

For anyone squeamish about the title, as I was, there is little actual torture in the book–and what there is is not overly descriptive. There are, though, many dark themes and thoughts on death.

Though some of the descriptions and dialogue seemed over-indulgent, it all added to the unique atmosphere of the book. This one is highly recommended by many, and now I can see it is with good reason. The only issue I had with it is that it ended right in the middle of a scene! So go into it knowing your’re going to have to read three books instead of one. Thankfully they are all available already.

Sci-fi and fantasy fans both will want to give this one a look.


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