The Book of the New Sun: Shadow and Claw Vol 1 (Fantasy Masterworks S.)

by Gene Wolfe

Paperback, 2000

Status

Available

Call number

813.54

Collection

Publication

Gollancz (2000), Paperback

Description

Fantasy. Fiction. Science Fiction. HTML: The Book of the New Sun is unanimously acclaimed as Gene Wolfe's most remarkable work, hailed as "a masterpiece of science fantasy comparable in importance to the major works of Tolkien and Lewis" by Publishers Weekly. Shadow & Claw brings together the first two books of the tetralogy in one volume: The Shadow of the Torturer is the tale of young Severian, an apprentice in the Guild of Torturers on the world called Urth, exiled for committing the ultimate sin of his profession �?? showing mercy toward his victim. Ursula K. Le Guin said, "Magic stuff . . . a masterpiece . . . the best science fiction I've read in years!" The Claw of the Conciliator continues the saga of Severian, banished from his home, as he undertakes a mythic quest to discover the awesome power of an ancient relic, and learn the truth about his hidden destiny. "One of the most ambitious works of speculative fiction in the twentieth century." �?? The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction At the Publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management Software (DRM) applied… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member josh314
What can I say? The Book of the New Sun, of which this omnibus is the first two parts of four, is a confounding and hypnotic spectacle. I first read this a few years ago and although I could not for the life of me figure out what was going on, I could also not put it down. The basic plot on the
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surface is the journey of Severian, the apprentice torturer, the Guild of Torturers being a sort of glorified quasi-religious sect of executioners. Severian is cast out of his Guild for showing a modicum of mercy and begins a long sojourn throughout the dying world of Urth, which is described alternately as our own past and future. Nothing is quite as it seems in these books, as the narrator, Severian, is unreliable and the language itself obfuscating. This is far from a straightforward story and it is not for everyone; it will cause many readers great frustration, particularly if they are not enamored with puzzles and double meaning. But, if you approach it with patience and a searching mind, there is much to find here.
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LibraryThing member RandyStafford
"It is no easy road" is the sort of literary dare both these novels end on. Should you take the dare?

I'd say obviously yes if you are a Wolfe fan or like science fantasy. I don't fit in either category. I've often liked the journey of the Wolfe short stories I've come across but always felt let
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down by the payoff or felt that I couldn't solve some literary puzzle I had been given. As for science fantasy, I don't mind the amalgam, but I don't seek it out either. So, though I've certainly been aware of how much the Book of the New Sun has been lauded since it was first published, I was in no hurry to read it.

Wolfe always intended the Book of the New Sun as a sole volume. Publishing realities - publishers did not routinely publish 800 page fantasies in those days - dictated that book be broken into four volumes, one a year starting in 1980.

This first half, though, despite some wanderings in fables, tales, and a play nested in the main narrative, is pretty engaging. Our hero Severan is a member of the Order of Seekers of Truth and Penitence, and, while he's pretty matter of fact about his apprenticeship and training, we don't get a lot of details but just enough glimpses of his work to know that torturer is not a symbolic title. He's also possessed of an eidetic memory with the narrative leavened with bits of foreshadowings that his story will take some unexpected turns.

We hear of his youth, an orphan left to the guild, his early encounter with Vodalus - a would be revolutionary whom Severan sort of imprints on, and the sin that sends him into exile: allowing Thecla, a noblewoman sentenced to a peculiar torture, to kill herself. Into exile, he takes Terminus Est, " The Line That Divides", his great sword. That's the first quarter of this volume. The rest of it covers his wanderings during exile until he settles into a provincial city as torturer. We get clues as to the past and present of this world, and Wolfe concludes each novel with a brief appendix explaining some, but not all, of his vocabulary and concepts. That part of Wolfe's puzzle, the nature of the world, I didn't mind as much as the story briefly stalling with all those other nested stories. And I liked Severan pausing the narrative to ruminate on the nature of love and other matters. And, as time goes on, we find out that, while Severan may have a photographic memory, that does not make him a reliable narrator in the matter of his relationship to Thecla.

And the characters and scenes largely kept my interest: a mysterious green man and sailor, a giant and his odd doctor companion, a woman of extreme beauty, a woman perhaps retrieved from the dead, cannibalism (this story was written in the 1970s when memory transference via RNA ingestion was an idea that showed up), a prison inhabited by generations who know nothing outside its walls, and the Autarch - leader of this society.

But, having gone the whole journey with Severan, I can tell you it does not end well. Still, this first half was enjoyable.
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LibraryThing member miken32
Come for the obtuse vocabulary and vague storyline. Stay for… the rampant misogyny? Don’t know if I’ll bother with the second volume in this series.
LibraryThing member mattries37315
The classic story of a young man journey from the only home he’s known and finding himself interacting with the strange wider world. Shadow & Claw by Gene Wolfe is the omnibus collection of the first two volumes of The Book of the New Sun tetralogy, The Shadow of the Torturer and The Claw of the
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Conciliator, following the life of the guild of torturer journeyman Severian.

The Shadow of the Torturer follows the last year of Severian’s life in The Citadel of Nessus and his few days after leaving into exile after breaking the greatest rule of the guild of torturers. Severian finds himself challenged to a duel and explores greater Nessus in preparation while coming into contacting with numerous interesting characters. The Claw of the Conciliator picks up a bit after the previous book with Severian performing his duties in a small mining town before going on a series of journeys going to the seat of government the House Absolute and leaving, all the while trying to figure out everything he’s involved in while trying not to dishonor his guild once again.

The first volume of the book, Shadow, was very intriguing and while somethings were clear—as might have been the plan—there was enough there to make me look forward to continuing on Severian’s journey. However the second volume, Claw, was all over the place with quality, interest, and frustration as one the main problems from the first volume, namely the first-person narration by Severian was all over the place. Add in an entire chapter that described a line-by-line recreation of a nonsensical play just to setup an attack by one of the characters on the audience in the next, much short chapter just added to my dislike of this particular volume.

I had high hopes for Shadow & Claw given that it was the first half of what is considered a classic tetralogy by Gene Wolfe. While I did like the first volume of the omnibus, the second one has made me wonder why this is considered a fantasy-science fiction classic by many.

The Shadow of the Torturer (3.5/5)
The Claw of the Conciliator (2/5)
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LibraryThing member NineLarks
I am writing this review several weeks after I finished the book unfortunately. But hopefully I have not forgotten too much.

I can see very well why this book was rated so highly here in Goodreads. Wolfe's writing is lyrical and his imagination is great. However, after reading through the entire
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book, I just feel as if I am left floundering for direction on my own.

This book felt like a dream. We drift from scene to scene without any true understanding of how each segment began. We travel with the narrator from dank castles and torture chambers to timeless gardens and then end up at an enemy camp and then find ourselves wandering with different companions here and there. We always seem to know where we are going, like in dreams, but never seem to get anywhere no matter how long we travel. In the same vein, this is also how I feel about the supporting characters. People drift in and out of scenes and it always seems natural that we meet up again with old characters and that we lose an important traveling companion for a chapter or two. But when I stop and think, it is really quite strange. Meeting up again with Dr Talos and Baldanders, losing Dorcas for a bit, the reappearance of characters, seeing Thecla's sister, etc. It's so very odd, but for some odd reason as I was paging through the book, I don't question it.

I think it's the nature of Wolfe's writing. It is lyrical and beautiful and dreamy, though he does not flowery language. It's a combination of the way he makes the reader feel as if we are observing along with the narrator and the fantastical situations we watch. For example, the battle with the poisonous plants was particularly intriguing to me. It was different, it was strange, and it was written as if it were completely normal. Same with the gardens. Lovely piece of writing.

But this book frustrates me because I feel as if nothing has been concluded, that there seems to be no purpose in this book (like a dream, hey). I am just so annoyed because the title is called Shadow and Claw, and we don't even understand anything about the Claw. Obviously it's important, but why? What is it's mystery? But the main character doesn't even care about that. What is the battle about? What is so important in that little town he is travelling towards? What is the point of this book?
All Severian does is wander around from town to road to city and back to road, meeting people and seeing fantastical things. But does anything actually happen that is of significance? Sigh.

I also did roll my eyes at how Wolfe describes women and his apparent "love" for them, especially since that love only seemed to be composed of him catching sight of their bodies and falling in love with their appearance. No matter what the women do or say or act. Eh.
But I mostly just paged through those moments and kept going.

Thus, I feel as if I have to rate it 2.5 stars, rounding up to 3 stars. Although it was interesting to read, I would never ever read it again. And I highly doubt I will pick up the sequel, even to see how the story would end. My dreams never have a true ending either.
I don't think I would recommend this book to my friends though. It's a very niche sort of writing, in my opinion. I'm not sure what book I could compare this to. But perhaps that's why it is so highly lauded.
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LibraryThing member friuduric
First half of the Book of the New Sun tetralogy. So different than the run-of-the-mill postindustrial SFF world. In fact, for most of the first book, it isn’t clear whether this is a postindustrial or some kind of alternate medieval world. The language style is more epic and formal than most,
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too. But how can I not be impressed by a story that is not only metatextual, but at one point has two characters discuss semiotics, in a perfectly natural way?
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LibraryThing member Tywin
I can feel and understand the genius of this work but I am -at least at this stage in my life- unable to express my feelings of admiration for this work and delight thereof. Suffice it to say, I still can not believe such a work can be created by a human being. I can not begin to understand the
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workings of such a mind especially when it comes to understanding the ability of expression of such complicated thoughts,impressions,ideas beautifully and pampering the intelligence of the reader.

It is a must read but beware it is hard to tackle. If you persevere, you will be rewarded more than fairly.
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LibraryThing member RoboSchro
"Someone fired a pistol. The bolt set his costume afire, but must have missed his body. Several exultants had drawn their swords, and someone -- I could not see who -- possessed that rarest of all weapons, a dream. It moved like tyrian smoke..."

This volume collects the first two books of the four
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that comprise The Book of the New Sun. The whole series is considered classic, and these two books won awards on their original publication. They're highly regarded, and enduringly popular.

At times, it's easy to see why. The world through which the characters move is rich, detailed, and imaginative. Wolfe tells the story in the first person, through the eyes of Severian -- an apprentice to the guild of torturers, cast out from his home and trying to find his way. His voice is grim, thoughtful, and vastly different from that of a typical fantasy hero. When it works, the reader is drawn into a wonderful world, with subtle philosophies at play. Severian is very moral in some ways, and very amoral in others, and it makes for an arresting journey.

And yet these books can be incredibly frustrating at times. Wolfe leaves out so much that it is often impossible to maintain an emotional connection with his characters. For example, Severian meets the rebel leader Vodalus early in his life; this encounter influences him greatly; he more or less declares his loyalty to this man above all else; and yet we never have any indication of why.

Wolfe seems to be more interested in creating a work of art than a narrative. The narrative, as a result, suffers greatly in places. Fortunately, the art is impressive enough that he gets away with it. Recommended, but only to patient readers.
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LibraryThing member malrubius
Reread Audiobook Oct 2011. Wonder upon wonder. The greatest work of the imagination I have ever encountered. A billion stars.
LibraryThing member nasherr
This book only pays off with effort. I am not the most well read person and I found this book tough. I was often unsure what was going on and had to re read certain parts. However the author has produced a truly original book with a great story line. The main character is exceptional as are all the
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concepts. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys fantasy and who wants to read more challenging novels. I'm sure some of the books meaning was lost on me. For instance I read in another review that The lead character, who tells the story, constantly lies to the reader. This seems like a really good idea but I cant say I noticed it happening at all.
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LibraryThing member jayrogers
Wow. I am embarrassed sometimes to admit that I am a fantasy & sci fi fan, because so much of it is so bad. It is often years (for me) between discoveries of major talent in these genres - the best-selling stuff is typically written and marketed for adolescents. Wolfe's New Sun novels are a mature,
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accomplished vision - Swiftean and macabre, reminescent of Herbert at his best.
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LibraryThing member blakeja
A series unlike anything else you have ever read in any genre. Reading Wolfe, especially in this series, is to me very much like reading a painting. He can be tough to follow so reading this book does require you to think, as he makes extensive use of metaphors to paint the picture/story for you
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and time lines are mixed together with little explanation. That said, I found it be a very rewarding read, unique all around and easily one of the best sci-fi/fantasy stories ever written.
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LibraryThing member Cecrow
This is like the Tolstoy of fantasy/sci-fi (it's a bit of a hybrid of the two); in other words, it's literature rather than pulp fiction, so don't expect fast action and cartoon characters. The idea behind it, from what I understand, is studying what the narrator leaves out and doesn't dwell on, as
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much as on what he describes. I have to confess, I pretty much just read it for the story and all that went over my head, but looking back I can sort of see what other reviewers are getting at. This deserves a re-read, if ever I've the patience, time and inclination.
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LibraryThing member Meggo
Rated as one of the best science fiction stories ever written, this book follows the story of Severian, a journeyman in the Guild of Torturers, who is cast out of the tower for permitting a client to suicide rather than face her allocated punishment. At times incomprehensible, I found that this
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book started slow and ended puzzlingly, but in the middle it was compelling and difficult to put down. An excellent read.
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LibraryThing member skystyler
this book is hard core. Not sure I understood everything that was going on, but I couldn't put it down. Brilliant.
LibraryThing member laurenbethy
This book is really complicated and difficult to understand because it is written in a highly developed and detailed world the author has created. Wolfe also has a very strange writing style--he writes in first person narration but the narrator, Severian, is very untrustworthy and skips over things
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sometimes, meaning that the reader has to figure a lot of stuff out for themselves. From what I can tell people either love or hate Wolfe's style, and in my case I love it.
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LibraryThing member elenchus
(My review for each book found under their respective titles.)
LibraryThing member SandraArdnas
What a mess of a book. I’m stumped at all the praise it received, including from people like Gaiman and Le Guin. They must be friends and thus have to praise it.

First of all, this is a series of episodes which do not really make a coherent whole. Editing out half of them would only make the
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reading shorter but wouldn’t necessarily affect the whole. While some of Wolfe’s episodic musings are excellent, others are prosaic, or sometimes downright dumb. The inclusion of a play Severian has remembered word for word and retells us word for word for unknown reasons was too much for me to endure. Seriously, what is that? Why are we reading the script of an amateur play for dozens of pages? Overall, it often feels we’re following Severian’s acid trip, which would be far more interesting if Severian was a more interesting character, but he is not. In fact, when he does have interesting thoughts, they seem out of place and out of character, as if another point of view has been introduced.

While the story has its moments and Wolfe gets points for some originality and literary ambitions with his treatment of language and text, he also fails miserably in too many ways. For me, the most unforgivable are ‘love’ episodes. They read like the most stereotypical prosaic romance stories if those were written for a male audience. I wanted to stab my eyes whenever Severian mused on his love/sex objects of interest.
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LibraryThing member NineLarks
I am writing this review several weeks after I finished the book unfortunately. But hopefully I have not forgotten too much.

I can see very well why this book was rated so highly here in Goodreads. Wolfe's writing is lyrical and his imagination is great. However, after reading through the entire
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book, I just feel as if I am left floundering for direction on my own.

This book felt like a dream. We drift from scene to scene without any true understanding of how each segment began. We travel with the narrator from dank castles and torture chambers to timeless gardens and then end up at an enemy camp and then find ourselves wandering with different companions here and there. We always seem to know where we are going, like in dreams, but never seem to get anywhere no matter how long we travel. In the same vein, this is also how I feel about the supporting characters. People drift in and out of scenes and it always seems natural that we meet up again with old characters and that we lose an important traveling companion for a chapter or two. But when I stop and think, it is really quite strange. Meeting up again with Dr Talos and Baldanders, losing Dorcas for a bit, the reappearance of characters, seeing Thecla's sister, etc. It's so very odd, but for some odd reason as I was paging through the book, I don't question it.

I think it's the nature of Wolfe's writing. It is lyrical and beautiful and dreamy, though he does not flowery language. It's a combination of the way he makes the reader feel as if we are observing along with the narrator and the fantastical situations we watch. For example, the battle with the poisonous plants was particularly intriguing to me. It was different, it was strange, and it was written as if it were completely normal. Same with the gardens. Lovely piece of writing.

But this book frustrates me because I feel as if nothing has been concluded, that there seems to be no purpose in this book (like a dream, hey). I am just so annoyed because the title is called Shadow and Claw, and we don't even understand anything about the Claw. Obviously it's important, but why? What is it's mystery? But the main character doesn't even care about that. What is the battle about? What is so important in that little town he is travelling towards? What is the point of this book?
All Severian does is wander around from town to road to city and back to road, meeting people and seeing fantastical things. But does anything actually happen that is of significance? Sigh.

I also did roll my eyes at how Wolfe describes women and his apparent "love" for them, especially since that love only seemed to be composed of him catching sight of their bodies and falling in love with their appearance. No matter what the women do or say or act. Eh.
But I mostly just paged through those moments and kept going.

Thus, I feel as if I have to rate it 2.5 stars, rounding up to 3 stars. Although it was interesting to read, I would never ever read it again. And I highly doubt I will pick up the sequel, even to see how the story would end. My dreams never have a true ending either.
I don't think I would recommend this book to my friends though. It's a very niche sort of writing, in my opinion. I'm not sure what book I could compare this to. But perhaps that's why it is so highly lauded.
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LibraryThing member DanielAlgara
Wow...

I'm barfing rainbows.

Very few books change the way you read, think, write.

Wow...
LibraryThing member LastCall
This is one of the greates fiction books written ever. It is a true masterpiece. It works and suceeds on every level.
LibraryThing member ToddSherman
Perhaps I should not tell it, but I lifted my sword to Heaven then, to the diminished sun with the worm in his heart; and I called, “His life for mine, New Sun, by your anger and my hope!”

—The Claw of the Conciliator by Gene Wolfe

I do not shrink from difficult prose. In fact, I seek it out.
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There are certain titles I plan on getting to, far in the future, sometime when I’ve gotten a tummy ache on confectionary fiction and need to equalize the pH with more savory fare. “Finnegan’s Wake”, “2666”, “War and Peace”, “The 120 Days of Sodom”—the list shall never end . . . well, until I end. However, that list is part of an invisible canon, I’d suspect, of any serious bibliophile the Western world over. “In Search of Lost Time” indeed; who’s got time for seven volumes of growing up in France? Without swords, that is. And that reminds me. Swords.

I’d read the first volume to “The Book of the New Sun” nearly twenty years ago. It didn’t grab me like I’d hoped, obviously, else I’d have finished the damn thing. But now that I’m on the second part, I can’t help think that maybe I was unprepared for a work of fantasy to be so challenging. Tolkien may have invented who-gives-a-shit-how-many-Elvish-languages, drew maps of worlds of Middle-earth to rival those from the Renaissance, and penned prose as purple and yawn-inducing as Henry James. Yet, once I sifted the nuggets from the scree, his works were largely accessible. Not so with Gene Wolfe. “The Claw of the Conciliator” is fucking hard. I mean, I’m looking up at least one word a page—sometimes four. Fuligin, carnifex, baluchither, thylacodon, hipparch—enough red squiggly underlines in a Word document to fool one into believing he suffered from macular degeneration. And it’s not just the lexicon you’ll scrape together to get through it (there actually IS one: “Lexicon Urthus”—no shit), but the sheer amount of omitted backstory, just dumping a poor soul in this far-flung world to wade through the waters and verbiage and huge cast of characters, makes one almost feel as if his compass were useless being that close to the magnet factory. Wolfe assumes the reader is intelligent and doesn’t spoon feed, explicate or even bother with neologisms. Swear to God, every word I’ve had to look up is either archaic, Latin or dug out of some layer in the earth only discovered once the quake ended, dislodging cities and forcing up defunct tongues on fresh mantle.

It’s exhausting. I’m taking it in pieces. Like it probably should be. And I’m being rewarded with beauty. For all that esoterica I’m finding complex souls, missions problematic and unexpected, countries divulged and summarily drowned in blood, magic and ritual. I’m not yet sure if it’s great or just greatly impressive. But its power is undeniable. And it sure as shit wrings the neck on anything a fantasy serial with feathers has presented, chicken-hearted hops in the farmyard, thus far. At least in my experience.

And what he doesn’t tell or show is a hovering shadow with more density than the average immersive fantasy author’s entire oeuvre. I can’t wait to sink my head back into this tar pit
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LibraryThing member benkaboo
Summary: A character driven sci-fi/fantasy that provides a challenging view of an alternative earth and the peoples that might live in it.

Things I liked:

The setting: Gene Wolfe definitely created a world and a set of characters that seemed alien to my first reading. I found myself stopping often
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to think about/visualize the ideas and structures his characters are describing. Even when (on closer analysis) he turns out to be talking about something quite familiar; he presents it as his characters see it. As his characters are alien (at least to me) the related concepts are similar. I thought this was very well done.

Words: He uses lots of cool words and although I found myself looking up heaps of them in the dictionary I more often than not found the particular ones he chosen to be singularly appropriate to the sense in which they were used.

Things I thought could be improved:

Narrative jumps around: A few more bridging paragraphs or epistemological excerpts would have helped me to work out whether or not I'd missed half a book between chapters or not.

Standout: The torturers guild was excellently realized (like something out of a Gothic novel) I loved this and all the related trappings.
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LibraryThing member ActuallySophia
A workable classic. It is clear why it commands authority as a work of "Dying Earth" science fiction. However, I am tired of the portrayal of non-male characters through the lens of white male authors.
LibraryThing member Vitaly1
very well written and an interesting plot.

Language

Original publication date

1983 (omnibus)
1980-05 (The Shadow of the Torturer)
1981-03 (The Claw of the Conciliator)

Physical description

608 p.; 7.64 inches

ISBN

1857989775 / 9781857989779
Page: 0.8644 seconds