Review: The Shadow Master by Craig Cormick

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.

*I received a copy through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review*

Being inside the Walled City people are safe from the plague. They are pretty much in lockdown and the way they get supplies is from other countries over the sea. In this city are two powerful families who are at war with each other. On the one hand we have the Medici and they have Leonardo at their side. The other family is the Lorraines, with Galileo. Both inventors are brilliant and help their master get the upperhand, without actually making war machines.

Now the Lorraines have a beautiful daughter called Lucia, though she is not their biological daughter and it is never mentioned where she actually came from. This girl has caught the attention of Lorenzo, he's Leonardo's apprentice and these two are supposed to be star-crossed lovers. That these two are attracted to each other, that is believable, that they are madly in love, not. So far they've only talked once in this book when Lorenzo literally climbs into her tower. Before that it was just stolen looks on the street or at mass. So I kind of failed to see the real connection between these two.

Then things go wonky, people get killed, kidnapped, there is some weird cult and all the bizarre machinery. Someone wants to start a war it seems by making sure these two families really start attacking each other. It's up to Lorenzo to stop them, at least that is what the Shadow Master tells him to do. No clue who this guy is. He just shows up, talks in riddles and pretty much made everything more confusing for me. Lorenzo just follows his lead, because the guy does want to help the city.

The beginning of the book was good and I was able to follow, but then halfway through things just got very confusing and stopped making sense. There were so many characters and it wasn't easy to keep track of who's side they were on. I did like all the inventions by Galileo and Leonardo, they were fascinating and bordered on magic even to me.

That ending though was just the worst actually. Nothing made sense anymore and I feel like a lot of information was missing especially when it came to Lorenzo, Lucia and the Shadow Master. I kept swiping on that last page, not believing that this was it. There is no cliffhanger or anything like that, it just felt like there needed to be more.

So while the setup and the plot were actually good, the confusion and that ending was such a bummer. This could have been a great book if the second part wasn't so rushed and the author took more time to explain everything and make it more clear. The ending is so open, that it doesn't really feel like an end. There are a lot of things up in the air and too many unanswered questions. If the meaning is for us to fill it in ourselves, I'm afraid I missed that point.


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The Author
Craig Cormick in an Australian science communicator and author. He was born in Wollongong in 1961, and is known for his creative writing and social research into public attitudes towards new technologies. He has lived mainly in Canberra, but has also in Iceland (1980–81) and Finland (1984–85). He has published 15 books of fiction and non-fiction, and numerous articles in refereed journals. He has been active in the Canberra writing community, teaching and editing, was Chair of the ACT Writers Centre from 2003 to 2008 and in 2006 was Writer in Residence at the University of Science in Penang, Malaysia.

Cormick's creative writing has appeared in most of Australia's literary journals including Southerly, Westerly, Island, Meanjin, The Phoenix Review, Overland, Scarp, 4W, Redoubt, Block, as well as in overseas publications including Silverfish New Writing (Malaysia) and Foreign Literature No 6 (China). He has previously been an editor of the radical arts magazine Blast, and his writing awards include the ACT Book of the Year Award in 1999 and the Queensland Premier's Literary Award in 2006. As a science communicator he has represented the Australian Government at many international science forums including APEC and OECD conferences, presenting on issues relating to public concerns about new technologies.

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