The Shadow Master by Craig Cormick Book Review

Genre: Fantasy, Alternate History
Author: Craig Cormick
Date to be Published: June 24, 2014
Publisher: Angry Robot Ltd
Edition: ARC
ISBN: 9780857665164

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In a land riven with plague, inside the infamous Walled City, two families vie for control: the Medicis with their genius inventor Leonardo; the Lorraines with Galileo, the most brilliant alchemist of his generation.

And when two star-crossed lovers, one from either house, threaten the status quo, a third, shadowy power – one that forever seems a step ahead of all of the familial warring – plots and schemes, and bides its time, ready for the moment to attack...
Assassination; ancient, impossible machines; torture and infamy – just another typical day in paradise.

Review:

If I were to narrate my progess in parts while reading this book, it will be like assessing my mental state: introduction - bored (really really bored), 30% into the story - curious (the Shadow Master has finally come! Ooops, spoiler), 55% - interested (when erotica is concerned), 75% (rising action) - stoic, ending - whatever. There's some sort of a plot twist in the end and I'm not even the least bit affected. It's like Dark City meets Fight Club minus the awe. There are no moments of ooohs and ahhhs for some surprises. How am I even supposed to be surprised when this book doesn't even evoke some emotions (save for that 55% I'm talking about).

This is a book of alternative history, making use of Galileo and Leonardo, set on the Enlightenment period that uses parallelism with that of William Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet, with two warring merchant families— the Lorraines and the Medicis. Lorenzo, an apprentice of Galileo at the employ of the Medicis, and Lucia, the adopted daughter of Duke and Duchess Lorraines are the two star-crossed lovers, the foci of the story.

I really love the japanese anime, Attack on Titans that I should feel giddy with this book—what with the same concept of a Walled City but instead of giants or titans, you have the walking army of malformed people outside the walls. The plague has swept throughout Europe that cities have fallen, and people suffer from deformities and inevitable death. Only one city is left standing, the renowned Walled City. Across the seas, none bears the concern that Europe has that they don't know how crucial the spices they're trading are to the people running from the plague. With such premises, I should have been intrigued but I was only enveloped with impasiveness.

When I first read the book, I don't know what the war is all about or if there's a greater war than a war between two Houses, The Lorraines and The Medicis, and a war against the plague. I was anxious for some action and then 30% into the story, there he was... the Shadow Master.

I really love the cover. There's an Assassin's Creed feel to it. But reading the book, I think that it lacked something. It lacked the air of mystery. Halfway in the book and I still don't have a clear idea what kind of atmosphere the author was trying to convey. I think that overall, the book was very much stoic in tone.

It was really stoic until... The Nameless One (the venerable among the deathseekers or elite assassins) thought of Lucia in place of his wife while making love to her. That really peaked my interest. I clicked the request button for an ARC from AngryRobot via netgalley because of the badass cover, not even pausing to read the synopsis and never thinking that there's a romantic touch to it or erotica for that matter. Somehow, it was on this part of the story that I couldn't put down the book anymore.

The people in this book live in metaphor, propelled by metaphors and killed by metaphors. I don't know if people in Europe during the Enlightenment is very much concerned with metaphors because somehow this book is scrambling for metaphors. But if there's one thing the author was successful at with metaphors, I have to say that part where The Nameless One made love with his wife.
“But somebody must have been inside the room to take the poor man’s tower of ivory out of his trousers,” said the cook. The kitchen girl, who had been trying to steal surreptitious looks at the dead man’s member thought it looked nothing like a tower of ivory and a more apt metaphor might have alluded to a chicken’s neck or perhaps a snail. But she knew nobody wanted to be disrespectful of the poor dead man and so said nothing. At least not until she was with the other kitchen girls later that day.

“Perhaps he was, um, playing the bone flute,” said the steward, turning a little red at the presence of the kitchen girl. “At the time of his death.”

The Captain of the Guards considered it and wondered, if a man was slain while his ivory tower was erect, might it not stay erect?

The Shadow Master is a very serious book with a bit of humor. If only the author was consistent with putting humor throughout the whole book without breaking its seriousness (like what Michael J. Sulliman did for The Riyria Chronicles), this would have been a very successful book.

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