Back in December one of the larger libraries in our area had a sale. I went on the last day and I think we picked up around 20 books. One of those books was Shadowmancer by G.P. Taylor. What got me interested was how the back had so many glowing endorsements of the book, comparing it to Harry Potter. However after finishing this book, it’s nothing like Harry Potter and the comparison borders on insulting and dishonest.
The main characters are three children named Thomas, Kate and Raphah who are trying to stop the evil priest named Obadiah Demurral. That is pretty much the extent of the character development. Thomas starts the story as an angry sort of self-pitying homeless orphan and that never really changes. His personality jumps all over the place from anger, to fear to random bouts of courage. And I mean random, he shouts something religious all of a sudden and then is filled with courage to handle the situation. This happens multiple times without any real reason to back it up and it comes off as poorly thought out. The one thing I like, at least, is that his motivation being vengeance is easy to believe and makes sense.
The randomness of character also extends to Kate as well and I honestly hated this the most. When we’re introduced to Kate, we’re shown this tough, rough n’ tumble girl who carries a gun she stole from her abusive father. She’s supposed to be this strong and tragic character who I wanted to root for however she gets no character development at all. That isn’t the worst of it as she’s constantly crying and panicking despite having been portrayed as a very tough and responsible character. There are moments where she’s suddenly a strong character and then devolves back into a side character that simply panics. But what I think is the worst offence is the inconsistent view on her father. Her drunken father who beats her on the regular she flips from hating him for being a terrible man to refusing to believe that he’s a terrible man when confronted by the truth. It’s like the child abuse is just included to make the story edgy and dark without actually contributing to any character development.
The third character who is barely even a character is Raphah. What bothers me about this character is that he’s essentially a religiously fervent child who never questions his belief despite being so far from home and seeing all this cruelty. He’s this infallible character who always does right and never grows. It’s also weird to see how he’s brought from Egypt and that doesn’t really factor into anything aside from very light and spotty racism. The worst of it is essentially people calling him an out of towner and a few slave remarks. For the period of time this is set, it comes off as a rather insincere attempt to make the story darker than it actually is.
The world of Shadowmancer is barely built up from anything. The worldbuilding comes off as light and never really developed to a point where I was curious about what’s happening. For a story that’s being compared to Harry Potter for having magic, wizards and fantasy, there isn’t a lot of it that’s explored. Any displays of magic or sorcery we see outside of Raphah come solely from Demurral which just emphasizes that it’s evil. The fact that magic and fantasy were the core selling points of this book, it’s very disappointing to never see it explored as far as it could be.
There’s a weird mix of imagined mythology and Christianity written in a way as to make it not seem like it is Christianity but just comes off as full blown Christianity later on. Witchcraft is painted as evil and of the devil while the only “good” form of magic comes from Riathamus which only Raphah seems to be able to do as His “chosen”. What bothers me most about this is that it soon becomes very very obvious this is God from Christianity. I don’t understand the choice of trying to thinly hide that this is a heavily Christian novel. It soon becomes very clear that Pyratheon is Lucifer and that things are just slightly changed to make it not so obvious.
What bothered me most, however, was this quote:
“Gentleman, forgive me. I am Pyratheon, that is my true name, I am the one behind every deity that is not Him. I am Pan, Baal, the Earth Goddess and whatever form or distraction I could think of to get your kind to worship me.”
The fact that this is coming from the Devil, claiming that all religions outside of Christianity were his creation comes off as incredibly offensive in my opinion. I don’t normally get offended by this sort of edgy storytelling, but when this is a story being marketed as a children’s novel that explicitly calls all other religions outside of Christianity false, I can’t help but find it insidious in its implications.
This is a Macguffin story from the beginning to the very end with a twist that is incredibly obvious from the beginning. There are no side plots or other story elements explored outside of maybe Jacob Crane and the Dragoon Captain Farrell. But even this is quickly wrapped up and not given a lot of depth outside of law enforcement and smuggler. This is incredibly weak considering that the story is filled with potential side plots. Kate and her abusive father, Thomas and his sick and dying mother, Raphah having this destiny placed upon him, none of these are every really fully explored despite being easy and potentially interesting side plots.
The story is also written through a metric ton of exposition. Whether it’s Raphah, Demurral, or another character, the story is primarily explained and progressed through exposition. The only point where the story is character driven is Thomas’ want for vengeance against Demurral at the very beginning. But this never really manifests as something relevant to the plot outside of motivation for his involvement in Raphah’s mission.
This might be the first book I’ve ever read that had such inconsistent and confusing flow. Each chapter is written in terms of location rather than character. The best example I can give of this is how the perspective is written from one character’s point of view and then suddenly switches to another character’s perspective without any kind of transition. You’re reading through seeing things from Thomas’ perspective when suddenly it jumps to Raphah’s without any kind of page break or transition of any kind. This isn’t even exclusive to the main characters as this will happen with the side characters as well. It’s incredibly distracting and makes it hard to keep reading.
What Writer’s can learn from this Book
Honestly, I can’t actually think of anything. The book feels more like a “what not to do” as an author.
This was almost my first DNF (Did Not Finish) book, but I swore I would always finish a story before judging it. I can’t recommend this to anyone whatsoever.