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Old 25th May 2004, 11:33   #1
Colyngbourne
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Default G.P. Taylor: Shadowmancer

As a Christian and a fan of both C. S. Lewis and Philip Pullman, who has little problem with the inclusion of spiritual matters/metaphors in children’s literature, I can only state that Shadowmancer made me cringe with embarrassment but also feel offended in the representation that Taylor gives us of Xian faith. As a story it is dragged down by its insistence on Xian conversion, and as a children's story it is as muddled as any I have read (including Sean Wright's, which is positively and endearingly linear in comparison).

Putting aside the map given us, with its ‘here be dragons’ nonsense four miles off the Whitby coastline, the story of Obadiah (Slope) Demurral and his slithy tove sidekick Beadle (aged 31), begins with a moonlit stroll to the beach and a Prospero-like moment of charming the wind and waves in order to founder a ship on which is carried the twin of Demurral’s icon of power, the gold angel Keruvim statue (the two figures once on the Ark of the Covenant). Once both are in his possession, Demurral will be more powerful than God but oddly he remains a laughably foolish villain throughout and Beadle barely escapes his Renfield-like ‘thrall’.

In the first few pages we are told of night beasties – the thulak; mystical statues/staffs of power - the Keruvim; and murderous sea creatures (ie. mermaids) the Seloth. It begins to sound familiar to Scrabble-bag enthusiasts, and already the POV wanders dizzily from Demurral to Beadle like a dog desperately in search of an owner.

Demurral is clearly a villain from the outset since he ‘owns the villages of Thorpe and Peak’ (pretty unusually, I would say unless he was the local landed gentry as well as the parson), and – quite legally though apparently villainously – gathers the rents and tithes from all the residents therein. We are later told of his ridiculously absurd conversion to the ‘dark side’ – as a visiting preacher at the invite of the previous vicar Dagda Sarapuk (?), he was abruptly overcome by a sudden greed, ensnared by the charm of the vicarage and its pretty views over the sea. From this single covetous moment comes his black heart and motivation to conquer, not just the old vicar in a beetle-racing bet, but God too – bizarre!

Storybook hero young Tom Barrick is soon terrorized by a glashan beastie into nearly drowning but is saved by the unlikely Raphah ( who ‘could have been fourteen or twenty’), an African youth who’d survived the wreck of the Keruvim ship and who calls Tom ‘little fish’ and speaks in quasi-Biblical pronouncements, except when he’s meeting feisty Kate – Tom’s best mate and tomboy to boot –

Quote:
May I say that for a girl you look incredibly like a man.
We’re suddenly into Famous Five territory, smugglers’ tunnels, more Scrabble beasties – the Varrigal (q.v. Tolkein’s Nazgul), who project Tom into a waking dream.

At this point Taylor gives an explicit presentation of the Christ-figure in a vision of a chamber – an altar with a cross, on which 13 yr old Tom recognises the jewels sardius, chrysolite, chalcedony, topaz even though he has never travelled further than Whitby (earlier he recognises a cathedral as such). Angelic figures appear – the Seruvim, army of the Mulkuth, including one Azrubel – and Riathamus (Christ) who cobbles together bits of the Gospels and Isaiah/Revelation/Psalms etc.

The narrative races on in confusion – the children escape somehow, leaving Raphah behind and meet the hearty Rueben [sic] Wayfoot in his mill (Tom knocks a significant three times), his wife and sons who are Boggles, some kind of half-human (maybe akin to the race of giants mentioned in early Genesis). They have a lot of cooked beef on hand early in the morning for some reason…

I have read many times Taylor explain how this story is not a Xian parable/allegory but approachable by any of the three monotheistic faiths, yet read the following:
Quote:
I wanted God to give me one sign. To change water into wine just for me, but I got nothing. I was taught to love my neighbour as myself, and love God with all my heart, But how can you love someone who is against the true prince of this world? ‘When I have ..both [Keruvim], I will change the world and I will bring about the death of God. This time he’ll be nailed to the tree for ever.’
Demurral even echoes Pilate’s ‘what is truth?’ a page or so later.

There are hundreds of biblical quotes slid into the text... just a few
Quote:
Lamb for slaughter…without speck or blemish
You don’t know what you are doing. You are like sheep without a shepherd.
A time when the sky will grow dark and the moon will turn to blood’
You have been held in the balance an found wanting
…turn to the one who can truly set you free…
You can’t see [Riathamus] but he knows the secrets of all your hearts
Let me go before I call upon the secret name that even you must bow before.
Can one spirit cast out another? Can an army fight against itself?
Riathamus stands at the door of your life and knocks…
When he sets you free, you are free indeed
The weaker [army] has a captain who forsakes his charger to ride a donkey…
I am a follower of the Way…
I have known you since you were knitted together in your mother’s womb…I am with you until the end of time
The obscure Scrabble-beasties mount up - the Thurak (invisible coma-inducing nasties); Seloth (mermaids); Keruvim (gold angels from the Ark of the Covenant god-box); Seruvim (holy angels); the Varrigal (ring-wraith-type nasties); the Glashan (rebel angels (who Riathamus defeated at the Battle of the Skull ie. Golgotha?); Pyratheon (Lucifer/the Devil); Dumamez (kind of possession-taking beast); the Azimuth (prophetic murdered soul trapped in limbo); the Sword of Mayence (out of nowhere in the last few pages); the Abaris crystal (which imprisons the rebel angels back in hell).

I have now read this book twice and am at a loss to set down its to-ings and fro-ings on the cliff tops between Whitby and Scarborough, the smugglers’ tunnels, the coastal moors and dells, the hobholes and Boggle Holes. The children run here, run there, go to the evil Vicarage via a tunnel, get captured, somehow escape. A famous smuggler Jacob Crane helps them, and helps the villain Demurral; a Captain Farrell of the Dragoons is possessed by a Dumamez; there is a last minute introduction to the Archangel Raphael (disguised) and a final showdown between the powers of hell and heaven in the church at the top of Whitby steps (the creepy one with box pews). Yes, Riathamus wins but I’m blowed if I know how.

Is it a preachy and sentimental Christian tract? Yes.
Does the POV ever settle on one person long enough to stop you feeling giddy and disorientated? No.
Is the storyline tedious and ineffective and confusing and muddling? Yes.

The characters are colourless and unsympathetic and the plot repetitive and disjointed. The overt references to Riathamus/Christ are rather nauseating in their evangelical nature, especially the honeyed meeting with the shepherd figure in the woods, who knows all their secrets and who feeds them bread and fishes. Tom and Kate are C21st kids, with C21st enlightened attitudes, and Jacob Crane seems to have been written with Sean Bean in mind. There are vignettes ripped from Robin Hood Prince of Thieves and Monarch of the Glen (cough cough, well that’s what I thought), and rather rude references to practitioners of spiritual matters that aren’t monotheistic (ie. Xian) – Tarot readers, New Age-ists, Wicca folk, mother Earth-ists.

I can't say anymore - it's killed me off reading it a second time
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Old 4th Jun 2004, 22:02   #2
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It looks as though American readers have taken even less time to see through Shadowmancer than British ones did: published last month in the US, its average rating is 2.83* out of five and of the eight reviews posted in the last week, seven are one star and one is two stars. I liked this particular display of incredulity:

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Originally Posted by A reviewer
My question is, what 8 by 10 glossy photos does this guy have as blackmail to get the press this book got? Harry Potter? Are you kidding me? This was horrible. Every book in this genre I've read was better than this.
But then as has been pointed out, some of the positive reviews of Shadowmancer have a distinctly self-publicising air to them, so maybe that's how you get "the press this book got".

Got your copy of Wormwood yet, Col?

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*A statistician writes: despite appearances, 2.83 out of 5 is actually less than 50% - in Amazon reviews the lowest score is 1, not 0, so a 50% rating is 3 stars and not 2.5...
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Old 5th Jun 2004, 10:22   #3
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I'm hoping to pick one up on the cheap, or the library. It surprised me that it was out this weekend.
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Old 5th Jun 2004, 11:04   #4
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I was kidding... (but maybe you were too). You can read the first chapter here - it doesn't seem to be notably awful.
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Old 5th Jun 2004, 19:13   #5
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I'm half-serious. It's curiosity to see if the Riathamus theme is being continued, if the characters are a little more detailed than last time, the plot less scattered to the winds.
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Old 7th Jun 2004, 11:44   #6
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Default Re: Shadowmancer

Quote:
Originally Posted by Colyngbourne
The obscure Scrabble-beasties mount up ... the Azimuth (prophetic murdered soul trapped in limbo);
What is it with the word azimuth? Doing some research into AA guns, I heard the word several times. It's one of the readings that the predictors - you have to fire in front of the airplane, predicting it's path, so that it flies through the shrapnel - used to take along with air speed, altitude, etc. It means the lateral deviation of a projectile.

Only a couple of weeks ago someone mentioned to me that one of their passwords had for years been 'azimuth'. The thing just keeps popping up everywhere.

Erm, anyway. Carry on...
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Old 7th Jun 2004, 12:06   #7
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As an erstwhile astronomer, I can tell you never buy a telescope with an alt-azimuth mount. What you need is an equitorial mount.
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Old 7th Jun 2004, 21:47   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by NottyImp
As an erstwhile astronomer, I can tell you never buy a telescope with an alt-azimuth mount. What you need is an equitorial mount.
An alt-azimuth mount, now there's a name just made for fantasy.

As the twin suns spiralled down to the sea, the knights of ______ thundered across the icy Steppes of _______ hounded by the Bruuhurrgzh on its slobbering alt-azimuth mount.
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Old 7th Jun 2004, 21:55   #9
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Anyone want to posit where the other names come from? Obviously Keruvim and Seruvim are meant to be cherubim and seraphim; we have an aetiological definition of azimuth...
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Old 15th Jun 2004, 17:23   #10
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Have just picked up the Reverend Taylor's magnum opus from the library. Review to follow...
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