The Shadow Master by Craig Cormick
Published by Angry Robot on June 24, 2014
Genres: Fantasy, Romance
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.
The Shadow Master by Craig Cormick was a different read for me. It is a bit steam punk with some humor thrown in, and a central romance of star crossed lovers. The central premise of the story is interesting. The land has been ravaged by plague, with no one safe or immune from its devastating effects. No one that is, outside of the Walled City. Within these walls they hold the secret to keeping the plague at bay, so the fortunate people within live unmarred and healthy. But of course, that does not mean they live in harmony.
Within this oasis from the plague, the people are divided between two households (the Medicis and the Lorraines) to the degree that a brief glimpse at a man’s facial hair will speak of his allegiance, which house he supports. Oh, and of course, this is a Romeo/Juliet love story, so our star-crossed lovers are from the different houses. (Brief confession here, I kept expecting to hear songs from West Side Story break out while reading).
Lorenzo (our Romeo) is an apprentice to Galileo, the Medicis most powerful alchemist and inventor. Lorenzo has a brilliant mind and is eager to solve problems and create new solutions. Prepare yourself for a plethora of devices consisting of cogs! Everything and anything can be made, if you just have some cogs and a bit of wire.
Lucia (our Juliet) is the only child of Duke Lorraine and lives high within her tower. She spends her time painting her idealized version of the city, removing walls and towers in an attempt to see what her world would look like in a time peace and prosperity.
The two have seemingly always caught each others eye and seek each other out from across their church or anywhere else they may cross paths. You know the, love and infatuation that is just created by some unseen chemistry that pulls these two into a tide where they are always reaching, searching, rarely finding one another. They have never haven spoken, but yet they are drawn to one another. At least the attraction is mutual and not stalker-y. My main comment with the characters is that they are rather 2 dimensional. But I also think that is typical of this type of story, and really all that uncommon. Kind of like Disney movies where a maiden fair is drawn to a dashing prince; The story is more about the evolution of the magical relationship rather than the characters themselves. You get the basics, some feel for them, but nothing much beyond that.
I will say I like the introduction of the Shadow Master, some mysterious figure whose allegiance is either unknown or non-existent. Without knowing his side or motivation, it keeps us guessing why he takes the actions he does and what he may do next.
Now, I would be remiss if I did not mention in my review that this book has offered up the most laughably awkward sex scene I have read to date. Not awkward for the characters, but awkward for the reader as the word choices kind of pull you out of the story. Prepare yourself for plenty of euphemisms. I am not sure if the author meant this to be humorous or not, but it certainly was. At least until View Spoiler » the man could not keep his tower of ivory from falling until he pictured his daughter in place of his wife. Then he could continue to ahem ‘explore’ his wife’s cave of wonders. « Hide Spoiler. That took it from laughable to kinda creepy icky for me.
I also feel the second half of the book was lacking a clear focus or direction. Things kept happening, but I really didn’t get a good feel for motivations which made it just feel random. It involved ‘madmen’, and I did feel that was rather apt. Once again, I left wondering how much of what I found humorous about this book was by design. Some of his humor was too blunt for my taste, the kind of satirical humor you would find in a prime time comedy TV Show. Most people like it, but it tends to fall flat for me, not just in this, but anything like that I read (Dresden Files being a very popular example).
This is a fast read, so if you are in the mood for a quick light read with a bit of steampunk Romeo/Juliet and humor, then give you could give it a shot, maybe it will work for you.
Many thanks to the Angry Robot and NetGalley for the ARC in return for my honest review.