Shadowmancer by G.P. Taylor
Faber and Faber (UK) Trade: ISBN 0571220460 PubDate: 06/19/03
Review by Iain Emsley320 pgs. List price
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Once upon a time children’s fantasy had a powerful undercurrent of Christianity to the stories, reaching their apogee in the works of CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien. Tolkien escaped the backlash (as his work could have other meanings mapped on to it) but CS Lewis fell into disrepute and a few unfair charges levelled at him, largely because Lewis was still writing apologias rather than children’s stories (remedied by the
Voyage of the Dawntreader) and had a scant grasp of actual people outside his Oxford circle, far less his confirmed bachelorhood. Recently Philip Pullman has led a convincing charge against Lewis and his perceived hypocrisy by establishing the Republic of God in the His Dark Materials trilogy.
GP Taylor’s Shadowmancer is a powerful riposte to this, mixing a well-developed story with compelling characters and scenery, and has established himself as a strong voice that needs to be read. His biography gives him an authority to the voice presented in this novel, an intriguing mix of ex-policeman and social worker, and now a vicar, and this comes across with his balance and observation in the novel.
Obadiah Demurral is a vicar for a Northern English village but he is also a sorcerer who stole the position though his own envy and is attempting to overthrow the rule of God through the acquisition of a pair of magical items known as Keruvim.. He has one already in his possession but now needs the other to complete his task, unaware that it is in a different form. Thomas, Kate and Raphah (who hails from Africa) stand in his way, as forces outside their control bring them together with the mysterious Jacob Crane – chief smuggler and confidant of Demurral.
None of the main characters act entirely in the way that one expects, driven by very human concerns as well as being ciphers for the underlying message. Magic co-exists with religion and the underlying similarities are brought to the fore with the idea of intention being developed. Taylor hints at further books in this world and deeper mysteries to come. Demurall is perhaps the closest that he gets to a flat character but this is admirably balanced by Crane, mysterious and driven by things greater than we understand and who counter balances the vicar in his worldly desires. The children (Thomas, Kate and Raphah) attain their own state of grace and bridge the mundane and supernatural, bring forth the Otherworld in their own actions and it is these rare cross-hatched moments that the Christian undertone is brought to the surface, harking back to Lewis and Tolkien in imagery. Yet, Taylor counters the poor characterisation and the abundant flatness of Narnia and Middle Earth through his developments of the real world; the action is set in a recognisable place which is also different. He develops the need for self-awareness and self-motivation to defeat the problem but does not defer this to a higher power. Each character has to face their own trials and chance of denial to come to awareness on their own rather than by merely accepting the choice.
Yet the book also reads as if it was influenced by Alan Garner in its landscape and strandloping characters or Susan Cooper with the powerful conflict between light and dark, a cosmic battle that is part of this world and some of the other.
Taylor has put together a compelling fantasy that revives the Christian tradition yet also reads as a powerful story in its own right – it is not merely a vehicle for a message but a well-rounded tale. Does the devil have the best tunes? Not according to