book reviews by Althea

The Shadow Master – Craig Cormick ***

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In an alternate Renaissance (one that’s not so re-birth-y), one city holds out against the hordes of desperate plague victims outside its walls. Within, two families vie for power – each employing a rival scientist. Leonardo and Galileo put their minds and science (which looks a lot like magic) to work on holding back the dread plague, and inventing gadgets. So far, both have refused to create weapons of war. The balance of power is delicate, the remedies that hold back the disease are losing efficacy, and it looks like humanity may well be doomed.

Against this backdrop, a scientist’s apprentice, Lorenzo, falls in love with the daughter of the rival family, Lucia. Lucia becomes a pawn in a plot involving control of the city. Lorenzo is distraught – but a mysterious assassin-like figure who seems to be possessed of great knowledge and skills appears and tells him that in order to save Lucia he must first save civilization…

The background setting for this was original and entertaining. I liked the whole steampunk-renaissance-with-plague-hordes concept. However, I felt like it didn’t live up to its full potential. The story itself was rather prosaic, with a few too many familiar tropes. However, it was still pretty entertaining – up until the end. It felt like the author got to the home stretch, suddenly said, “Wait! I didn’t explain anything! I have bits in here that don’t make much sense!” and went to extreme lengths to quickly cobble together a far-fetched and ridiculous excuse for the whole scenario which involves bringing in whole new levels of plot that weren’t previously even hinted at – and still don’t really make that much sense.
Still – it’s pretty decent up until the very end.

Copy provided by NetGalley! Thanks to Angry Robot for allowing me to read this book!


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