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▶  More from Fiction Book Reviews Before the Rising Sun
‘The Faithless Door… Eternally Ajar’
Impressions of Chapter 2 of Gene Wolfe’s Shadow of the Torturer
Reading from pages 16-21 of Shadow & Claw
“Memory oppresses me.” Begins Severian’s account of his drowning as a youth, the defining moment of his life that somehow seemed to set him upon a blind path to the throne from whence he recounts the death of his innocence from the perspective of its opposite. Severian is cursed with the inability to forget and hence his memoir speaks to the reader like an attempt to stave off insanity.
The surroundings and location begin to feel more like a grounded ship or plane of some kind, with terms like bulkhead and the description of “fallen slabs of unsmeltable gray metal,” casually referenced.
The sorrowful patrimony of those members of the Order of the Seekers for Truth and Penitence is directly treated:
“None of us were born among the torturers, for none are. It I said that in ancient times there were both men and women in the guild, and that sons and daughters were born to them and brought up in the mystery, as is now the case among the lamp-makers and goldsmiths and many other guilds. But Ymar the Almost Just, observing how cruel the women were and how often they exceeded the punishments he had decreed, ordered that there should be women among the torturers no more.
“Since that time our numbers have been repaired solely from the children of those who fall into our hands.”
Severian describes how he and other boys took symbols for their personal identity from among those populating the necropolis [bringing to this reader’s mind the postmodern mania of non-tribal tattooing] , fancying perhaps high origins, but in his case, indicating a looted mausoleum and coffin in which he used to hide and spy on the world as a boy. Severian suffers the death of his childhood dream times and the beginning of his journey through temporal sorrow with his drowning and his vision of a river goddess which he fails to recognize for who she is, though a fisherman suspects that he had been sent back above the black water of the drowned world by the deity.
The emergent consciousness of the youth, alienated, with a natural affinity for the world in opposition to the adult hierarchy, is punctuated in off-beat passages, such as, “…before they come too near to being men, boys often have an almost female insight,” as well as the misanthropy of the alienated youth, “…a butchery of human beings who are for the most part less innocent and less valuable than cattle.”
The most fascinating artifice of this world of Nessus, a massive city beyond the scale of Severian’s youthful imagination, is the nenuphar, a redolent flower with black roots and an azure petals bobbing in the black waters of Gyoll, a poisoned river with a suprahuman consciousness. Among other insights, the reader comes to understand that the moon is green, having been teraformed.
Diction of Note
-Nessus, principal city of the world
-Armigers, a social class
-Optimates, a social class
-Matachin Tower, place of the torturers in the great Citadel
-linnets, animal
-caracara, a snake hunting animal
-saros, a long period of time
-blazon, noun
-Cacogens, star-faring visitors to Urth
-Urth, ancient earth of the distant future
-nenuphar, aquatic flower
-Night, a deity
-the khan, a great, as yet unspecified eminence on the far side of the river
Night City: The Short Fiction of James LaFond: 2015-16
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yusef of the dusk
the world is our widow
the lesser angels of our nature
logic of force
winter of a fighting life
taboo you
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