The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

In an Earth (now called Urth) of the distant future, the Sun is slowly dying. Humanity is divided into the Commonwealth, centered roughly in what is now South America, and the Ascians, or those without shadow, who dominate the Northern Hemisphere. The society resembles medieval cultures such as that of the Byzantine Empire.

Severian is born into the hereditary Guild of Torturers in the city of Nessus. The Torturers are assigned to torment the enemies of the city’s ruler. Severian, along with several other apprentices, is trained by the dour Master Gurloes. One of the few exceptions to their grim regimen is the annual celebration of their patroness, Holy Katherine. Severian meets a prisoner named Thecla, on whom he takes pity, eventually bringing her books and trying to console her. Severian gives Thecla a knife, and from the pools of blood he sees outside her prison door the next time he comes to visit her, he concludes that she has committed suicide. Severian informs Master Palaemon, one of his superiors in the Guild, of what he has done. Palaemon advises Severian to go into exile and gives him a resplendent sword named Terminus Est to aid him during his adventures and ordeals.

Severian ranges far and wide, eventually meeting an abandoned blonde woman named Dorcas as well as the mysterious Dr. Talos and his sidekick, the giant Baldanders. Severian’s network of acquaintances begins to solidify, forming a circle of personal loyalties around which his destiny will unfold. Eventually, some of these people’s memories become fused with Severian’s when he comes to be the representative of his entire planet.

Severian journeys to the north, toward the Windowless City of Thrax. He manages to get hold of the Claw of the Conciliator, which despite its name is not a weapon but a...

(The entire section is 746 words.)