Book Review: The Shadow Master

The Shadow Master by Craig Cormick, The Shadow Master #1

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.


When I was presented with a list of books that Angry Robot was publishing, I was immediately drawn by the cover of the book, doesn't that catch everyone's appeal? Reading the synopsis of The Shadow Master completely won me over, I like reading historical fantasy, especially set in the era of two of the greatest scientists ever. Leonardo and Galileo. add to this a plot line of assasinations and two warring families, what more do you want for an exciting read? The Shadow Master is written by Craig Cormick, though it is not his debut, as he he written various stories before, The Shadow Master is his first venture in the fantasy genre, and he does a very nice job at it!

The first thing that falls to note in The Shadow Master is the setting that Craig Cormick introduces the reader to. From above the names of Leonardo and Galileo shouldn't have escaped you, the story takes place in a Italy at around the Renaissance time, but nothing that has been described in the history books so far. It takes definitely more than just naming historical figures to make the setting of a book come to life, and this is exactly what Craig Cromick does very well. In building his world he doesn't rely on historical figures alone but when describing the surroundings of the world and the characters that inhabit it, they feel very real. This is definitely a strong point to the book as the narration and the writing style is very clear and clean. From the beginning of the book there is a nice pace that continues all the way until the end and it was for me just impossible to put this book down. Solid writing style. 

The story itself takes place mostly in the famed Walled City. People live withing the Walled City to keep safe from the bubonic plague that still haunts the outside of the city. The survivors of the plague, or let me rephrase that, the infected linger at the city walls posing a constant threat for the people that live inside. Within the Walled City there are two opposing families, The Medicis and the Lorraines, that constantly fight for power and control. Before several events they weren't really fighting more powerplay and politics, but just after leaving a Cathedral on of the family members of the Medicis, Giuliano Medici, is assassinated with a dagger in his back. immediately all the fingers are pointed towards the Lorraine family, who else would want and would dare to kill a well respect person? Giuliano's brother, Cosimo swears for revenge. But it soon proves that wanting and getting revenge isn't the same thing. 

Next to this you have a different storyline that focuses on two other members of the rival houses and which storyline imposes a view of the classic story of Romea and Juliet, but instead of their appearances you have Lucia Lorraine and Lorenzo, apprentice to Galileo, who in turn serves the house of Medici, I bet you can see where this is going. With the death of Giuliano, there frequency of being able to meet it drastically changed and both have to certain limits to be able to say hi to each other. But this all combined is only the start of a much bigger problem as two shadowy figure with a pronounced presence make an appearance, The Shadow Master and The Nameless One. In the end you will learn that both stories make up something, much, much bigger. 

This is the first story that I have read in a long time that shows a very nice depicting of the classical Romeo and Juliet theme. I have to give it to Craig Cormick that he created some very interesting and emotional characters when it came down to both Lucia and Lorenzo. They both are shown with the classic elements of their "predecessors" but have enough voice of their own to let them come out and shine. Lucia is the daughter of the Duke of Lorraine and normally those kind of young women are shown as brats as they have everything and are able to live the life of luxury. Lucia is in this way quite different, there is an important part in the story where something happens to her and instead of just sitting there and let destiny happen to her, she picks up her courage and decides to take her fate into her own hands. The same counts for Lorenzo, he also has to face a lot of challenges to overcome some of his own weaknesses. It's great to see the characters were build like this, though it was a bit predictable, you just cant go wrong with showing Lucia and Lorenzo this way in the backdrop of a classic Romeo and Juliet story. 

What really makes the story cool in my opinion were the introductions of The Shadow Master himself and The Nameless One, these shadowy presences really provoke you to think about what they really are and what they can do. If you thought that the city was rules by the houses of Medici and Lorraine, think again, much higher presences take to the stage here and seems that many people are being played into certain direction. I liked that Craig Cormick put a nice amount of time and focus on these presences, you learn a few things but there are some many unanswerable questions raised. And with this Craig Cormick also leaves the ending of The Shadow Master on quite the cliffhanger. Making you wish that you had the sequel already at hand!  

The Shadow Master is not your standard cup of tea but is just the book that I have come to learn that Angry Robot pubilshes, daring new ideas, often pretty bold but they do seem to work very well in the end, and in this The Shadow Master is no exception. The Shadow Master is one of the best written books that I have come across in a long time when you look at the narration and writing style that Craig Cormick uses it is just impossible to let this book down for just a few minutes. The whole idea behind the story of The Shadow Master again is something that I haven't enountered in a long while, yes I read fairy tale adaptations but a retelling of Romeo and Juliet wasn't something that I had dared to imagine. And lets above all not forget the ever presence of two of histories most adapt inventors: Da Vinci and Galileo. Pretty cool and Craig Cormick really knows how to build the right setting for the occasion. I have high hopes for the sequel.

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