Everybody Hates Metaphors

The Shadow Master - Craig Cormick

”Think of it as a matter of wife or death,” the stranger said.
“What?” asked Lorenzo.
The stranger sighed. “It is a play on words. You were meant to laugh. To lighten the gravity of the moment.” he said.
“I don’t understand,” said Lorenzo.

I second that notion.


Ah this book. I have half the mind to slap this an outright 1-star rating out of sheer disappointment over the wasted potential. For a while there, this had me going with explosively glorious expectations of ***Zombies! Mechas! Zombies vs Mechas!*** only to be shot back down to below mediocrity with an obscure Faith vs Science message and an exhaustive, confusing resolution.


If you can call it that.


The book is set in an alternate Renaissance history where The Walled City is kept safe from the (Bubonic) plague ravaging the world by two families in conflict: The Medicis and The Lorraines. Both hold control over the trade of the curative spiced wine and coexist in tense competition, each holding the brilliant minds of Galileo Galilei and Leonardo Da Vinci under their employs. This tension combusts to open hostility when Giuliano Medici got massacred in public and his surviving brother, Cosimo, accuses The Duke of Lorraine of the crime. As one family tries to better the other, two star-crossed lovers are brought inadvertently into the heart of their feud: Lorenzo, Galileo’s apprentice and Lucia, the adoptive daughter of the Duke of Lorraine. With the help of the mysterious Shadow Master, Lorenzo and Lucia tries to find their way back to each other, surviving crazed zealots, the threat of the plagued army and an ancient magic that may yet to save civilisation.


I am not really the biggest fan of Romeo and Juliet retellings so this started quite sluggishly for me. Thankfully Lorenzo and Lucia spent the entirety of the book away from each other keeping the cheese intoxication in check. This had a lot of interesting facets to its story: the feud between the bearded Medicis and the moustachioed Lorraines; the contrast between Galileo and Leonardo’s brilliance; the circumstances in the wall and the plight of the plagued; and the addition of the snarky, wisecracking Shadow Master to the plot. But somehow, all these subplots failed to fit cleanly into each other to serve the bigger story in the end.


If there was one at all.


The narrative was painfully choppy and I was burdened with filling in some blanks for continuity’s sake to make some sense of it all towards the end. There were too many mysterious add-on characters with very little back story and even less value to the bigger plot. I’m hopeful that this was an editing issue and there’s a Director’s/Author’s Cut lying somewhere truly deserving of the better rating I was hoping to give this book.


There was a certain sly wit and humour at play but was sometimes too obscure to be identified as funny, easily dismissed instead as awful which is unfortunate. The running joke about metaphors was quite brilliant and I enjoyed seeing just how bad sex metaphors can get when one sets his or her mind to the task.


He had to do the rest of the work. Her limbs were too weak. She could but lie there and let him enter her cave of wonders. Let him climb the heights of the mountain of desire. Let him try to carry them both away in the flight of the majestic moth.



Um, funny and brilliant? Okay, let’s go with funny and brilliant there.


This tried to incorporate as much of the historical details in Galileo’s, Leonardo’s and Savonarola’s characters in the story, to the point of forcing certain scenes (i.e. Galileo’s historical trial scene and exposition about science and faith) to fit into the overall plot which ended up sacrificing coherence. I was expecting some out-of-left-field plot twist that would explain everything, that even the hateful time travel explanation started to feel welcome.


Except it never came.


Shadow Master felt like witnessing someone’s gradual descent into inebriation: how alcohol initially makes everything infinitely interesting, followed by dwindling sense and slurred language, ending with unconsciousness. The book literally finishes as though the highly drunk narrator was in mid-thought when he succumbed to sleep. Leaving you frustrated, bewildered and scratching your head.


Review Copy courtesy of the publishers. Quotes taken from an uncorrected proof.