5 Mar

While trying to second guess what familiar things gone wrong lie at the origin of curiosities populating Gene Wolfe’s bleak vision of the future makes the experience more intriguing, it is words that struck me the most in Shadow of the Torturer.

This is a good fun book, but it wouldn’t have claimed those awards and nominations without some good writing to back up the story and the charm of it comes first of all from words. Peltast, chrism, monomachy, fricatrice, exultant, autarch, fiacre, sabretache, destrier, chiliarch, portreeve, abacination, cangue, bartizan, flageolet, lambrequin, mensal, pavonine – should I go on?

What strikes me the most is that all of these and many other like them that Wolfe generously uses in the book are real words, not inventions of the author, as it is often the case in SF&F. Many of them have their original meaning preserved, but by using them instead of a more regular (shall we say ‘banal’ version), the author builds a feeling of eeriness in the book which I cannot describe with full justice – you really ought to read it to get it yourself.

The eerines is pushed even further by the somewhat illogic nature of the characters, I often felt that they acted bizzarely, driven by motivations which are layed out in the open, fully explained and logical by their terms and those of the world they live in to some extent, but a bit alien for the reader.

These lead to a rich reading experience and I have enjoyed Shadow of the Torturer not just as a masterpiece of the genre, but as a good lesson in taking a fetish for words to a new level of art


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