The Claw of the Conciliator (1981) (Book of the New Sun #2) by Gene Wolfe

TheClawoftheConciliator1The following is a transcript of a conversation between From Couch to Moon and Gene Wolfe. Not really, but just go with me on this. (Click here to see the first part of this conversation.)

Hey Gene, the Claw of the Conciliator sounds like a metal song. Has anyone done this yet?

 Such a mighty structure was the Wall that it divided the world as the mere line between their covers does two books… [217]

Again with the self-referencing. But it sounds like you’re saying these four books were intended to encompass one entire novel, divided only by their covers. Which also suggests you have a plan for this tale… cuz right now, it seems like you’re just making up stuff as you go along.


Whatever I possess I would give to become one of you, who complain of every day of memories fading. My own do not…

I think I turned… [221]

Uh huh. So, Severian has this eidetic memory he brags about all the time, yet sometimes he can’t remember stuff. Unreliable narrator alert!


I will not recount [other executions] unless they hold some special interest. If you delight in another’s pain and death, you will gain little satisfaction from me [238].

Okay, that’s cool. Does this mean you’ll also ditch the gratuitous breastage?

I lift her gown from her and embrace that ivory body, feeling her nipples pressed to my face… [261].

Guess not.

The greatest causes are often joined by the basest means… So blossoms spring from muck [278].



I gotta be honest, Gene. I am really struggling with this book. I have to reread passages all the time because my mind keeps drifting. I am not engaged.

It stood between my perception and reality like a giant mist, through which everything could be seen but nothing apprehended [280].

That sums up my experience pretty well.

I ate and waited…

… she was there, filling me as a melody fills a cottage [280].

Wait a minute. What did he just eat? Hold on, I need to reread that part…


I can’t believe Severian just ate that. That is messed up.


When I recall that scene now, the rattle of his metal hand… [294]

Wha—since when did that guy get a metal hand?


The observer feels that he is at the center, that everything he sees has been directed toward the point at which he stands;… and every vision seems to convey some incommunicable truth… [294].

Which is why I have reread everything.


How foolish to call them mirrors… They reflect reality, the metaphysical substance that underlies the material world [323].

That is pretty cool. And I suppose there is something meta in that statement.


‘I’m really only comfortable when I can keep my legs apart’ [349].

Ah, here we go again.

… because I had poured out my manhood again and again with Jolenta in the nenuphar boat. Yet if I had found Dorcas I would have smothered her with kisses; and for Jolenta, whom I had been prone to dislike, I now had conceived a certain affection [372].

No kidding.


We who are worn are seldom aware that, seeming ourselves to ourselves, we are yet Demiurge, Paraclete, or Fiend to another [356].

Yeah, I don’t know who anybody is, either. This complicates matters.


There were conversations in the audience, and I could hear those as well—one about the play, which discovered in it significances I had never guessed and which Dr. Talos, I would say, had never intended [370].

So, you’re saying that we readers are looking too hard for significances that aren’t really there?

‘There is no magic. There is only knowledge, more or less hidden’ [404]

No, it’s definitely not magic. But this book is full of obfuscation.


Here I pause. If you wish to walk no farther with me, reader, I do not blame you. It is no easy road [409].

Dude, I’m halfway done and I think you just added robots and spaceships. There’s no way I’m quitting now.



I have to admit I really struggled with this second part of the The Book of the New Sun. The obfuscation does less to intrigue and more to cause mind wandering. I often found myself realizing that I had no idea what I just read for the past ten pages. But…

Heat sucking bats, girlfriend cannibalism, giant moving sculptures, underground labyrinthian mansions, a town that moves to always cross a traveler’s path, light sabers??? Wild beasts that personify the people they eat (“I want my mommy…” Doctor Who, anyone? So creepy.) Mirror portals, cathedrals that ignite and go skyward, men of flesh-covered metal and wires…

All of this is enough to tantalize the SF reader, if only just to find out what the fuck is going on.

17 thoughts on “The Claw of the Conciliator (1981) (Book of the New Sun #2) by Gene Wolfe

  1. marzaat says:

    I read your review to see if you would quote the line many do when reviewing the book: “It is no easy road.”


    And I’m curious if, at the end, you’ll find it as rewarding as many do.


    • fromcouchtomoon says:

      I almost used that quote, lol! But I went with his sign off, instead.

      I have finished the series already, and *spoiler alert* it is quite rewarding. This particular book was the hardest for me. Even his sentence structure is as strange and vague as the story. Such an unusual narrative.


    • fromcouchtomoon says:

      Ack, I mean, I almost DIDN’T use that quote, but it seems to be his sign off. And it is very fitting.


  2. Rabindranauth says:

    Lmao, awesome review. Sounds like you had quite the experience here.


  3. Joseph Nebus says:

    That’s been kind of my impression of Wolfe, that I appreciate there’s stuff going on there but it’s more work to get at than I quite feel like putting in.


    • fromcouchtomoon says:

      I almost quit the series after this book. Fortunately, the third book is a completely different experience, but I’m still not sure of the purpose for writing the first and last books so differently.


  4. HA. I love it when you write reviews this way. I can’t decide if I would love or hate this book.


  5. romeorites says:

    As you know, I do love this series, but this book is like nothing I have ever read and is beyond weird but worth reading for the “Whaaa?” factor. Someone should do a Metal concept album of this series.


  6. […] and I had another little chat, this time about the second novel in his Book of the New Sun series, The Claw of the Conciliator (1981). I think he’s saying that maybe we’re looking a little too hard for hidden meanings, but […]


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