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The Claw of the Conciliator

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Wikipedia article

'The Claw of the Conciliator' is a science fantasy novel by Gene Wolfe, first released in 1981. It is the second volume in the four-volume series, 'The Book of the New Sun'.

Plot introduction

The book continues the story of Severian, a journeyman in the Seekers for Truth and Penitence (the guild of torturers), describing his travels north to the city of Thrax.

Plot summary

The book continues shortly after the previous installment left off, skipping only Severian's journey from the gate of Nessus to the nearby town of Saltus. Having been separated from the rest of the group he was traveling with, Severian pauses his search for them here as he is given an opportunity to practice his art (in this case, execution) on two people. The first was found to be a servant of Vodalus, a revolutionary and traitor to the commonwealth. As the man is dragged out of his home by a mob, Severian glimpses Agia in the crowd, a woman who with her twin brother had tried to swindle and then kill Severian to get his priceless executioner's sword. Severian executed the brother at the request of the local authorities. Severian searches for her at the town fair but instead has a conversation with a man whose skin is green, held prisoner in a tent as a sideshow attraction. The green man tells Severian he is from the future. Severian takes pity on him and gives him a piece of his whetstone so that he can free himself by grinding through his chains, thus recalling his mercy to Thecla, another prisoner, in the first book. He does not find Agia and instead returns to town where he later executes a woman accused of being a witch.

Eating dinner with his friend Jonas (whom he met at the gate at Nessus) that evening, he finds a letter from Thecla asking him to meet her at a nearby cave. In the cave, Severian encounters and barely escapes a group of man-apes. The light from the Claw (a relic he accidentally had come into the possession of, which had previously been held by a religious order) stops the man-apes' attack, but it also seems to wake an unknown creature somewhere in the cave, who is only heard and not seen. Severian has little time to ponder this as he escapes, only to be attacked by Agia and her assassins outside the cave. One of the attackers is killed by one of the man-apes, who had its hand cut off in the battle. When Severian brings out the Claw its wound is healed. Severian lets Agia go and returns to Saltus, where he and Jonas are taken by Vodalus.

Vodalus recalls that Severian saved his life and allows Severian to enter his service. Severian and Jonas attend a dinner with Vodalus where they consume the dead Thecla's flesh, which, when combined with an alien substance, allows Thecla's memories to live within Severian. Given the task to deliver a message to a servant in the House Absolute, the Autarch's seat of power, Severian and Jonas set off to the north. They are attacked by a flying creature who feeds on the heat and life force of living beings, and barely escape. A nearby soldier patrolling the area is killed by the creature (now divided into three separate individuals after being cut by Severian's sword), but is then revived by the claw. They are then captured by guards of the House Absolute and thrown into an antechamber designed to hold prisoners indefinitely. Severian's claw heals a wound Jonas receives during the night they spend there; then the pair escape some unknown horror using a pass phrase to open a secret doorSeverian remembers the phrase using Thecla's memory within him. Walking the corridors of House Absolute, Jonas is revealed to be a robot who once crash landed on earth and is now partly covered by human flesh, and steps into a mirror and disappears, promising to return for Jolenta when he is healed. Severian is lost and eventually encounters the Autarch himself, to whom he swears service, upon being shown a portal to another universe.

Stumbling into the gardens of the House Absolute, Severian is reunited with Dorcas, Dr. Talos, and Baldanders, who are preparing to once again perform the play they put on in Nessus in the first book. Severian participates again, but the play is cut short as Baldanders flies into a rage and attacks the audience, revealing that aliens are among them. The band is scattered and Severian finds them a ways away the next morning, heading north. Talos and Baldanders part ways with Severian and Dorcas at a crossroad, Severian heading toward Thrax and the giant and his physician headed toward Lake Diaturna. The waitress Jolenta tries to have Talos take her with him, but he has no more use for her now that the plays were no longer necessary, and Severian is forced to take her. As they head north, Jolenta is attacked by a "blood bat" and becomes ill. It is revealed that she had been scientifically altered by Dr. Talos to be gorgeous and desirable, but is quickly becoming sickly and unattractive. Soon the trio meets an old farmer who tells them they must pass through an enigmatic stone city to get to Thrax. Upon arriving at the ruinous city, Severian sees a pair of witches initiate a dream-like event in which ghostly dancers of the stone town's past fill the area and engage with the witch's' servant, who is actually Vodalus's lieutenant Hildegrin. The book ends with Dorcas and Severian emerging from a stupor in the stone town, Jolenta dead and the witches and Hildegrin gone.


'Claw' won the Nebula Award for Best Novel, in 1981; won the Locus Award in 1982; and Hugo and World Fantasy Award nominations in 1982.

Limited Edition

In 2008, Centipede Press, a small privately-owned fine press, produced a limited edition of Claw of the Conciliator. Like their previous limited edition of Shadow of the Torturer, this book was limited to 100 copies, each signed by Gene Wolfe. This edition also included full color artwork by the German artist, Alexander Preuss, a ribbon marker, head and tail bands, and three-piece cloth construction. It also came with a protective slipcase. Retail price for this limited edition was $225. It is now out of print.[http://www.thewholebookexperience.com/2011/03/14/the-book-of-the-new-sun-by-gene-wolfe-centipede-press/ The Whole Book Experience]

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