The Shadow Master is set in an alt history where science is a form of magic that takes a toll on the user. A plague ravages the land and within the only city free of it's taint two ruling factions grapple for power. A young man and a young woman with allegiance to opposing families feel they are soul-bound to each other. Someone is trying to entice a civil war, to let in the diseased, and to raze the city. The key to the salvation of civilization is in the two lovers, but will it be found in time?
I'm not sure what I think of this story. It floats between political intrigue and mysticism. Perhaps due to the nature of two warring clans with unfamiliar names, I spent a lot of time struggling to keep characters straight at the beginning. In the end only a handful are important enough to remember, and those actually are relatively easy to keep sorted.
There are definite Italian and European influences on the story, but I would be hesitant to state a definite country of origin. The two great scientists/inventors Galileo and Leonardo are definitely meant to be inspired by historical men that come to mind, though in real life one was born a hundred years after the other's death.
Once I got into the story I started to enjoy it, however with the level of deliberate obfuscation and mystic intrigue I feel that it would be better suited to film than a novel. As for the end... you'll have to read it for yourself to make up your mind what is going on there.
I did enjoy the characterization and setting, but had to throw away any niggling bits of history that I actually remember (Social Studies was always a tough subject for me) lest I try to fit parts of the narration up against actual history. The Shadow Master himself does play a pivotal role, but more as a shepard than as a player, serving to (sometimes very blatantly) push the specific characters to their destiny.
Advanced Reader Copy copy courtesy of Netgalley; differences may exist between uncorrected galley text and the final edition.