The Shadowy Man  By Elena Clarke

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Post September 08, 2007, 10:54:13 AM

The Shadowy Man  By Elena Clarke

Wow!  Did Ms. Clarke accidentally email this to Aphelion instead of Asimov's?  

This story was at least as good as anything I've read in the pay venues.  Her grasp of the societal dynamics of the early Renaissance was dazzling.  It was an interesting take on the Rebirth (those who embraced Reason over Superstition.  .  .often including Religion) motif.  We mostly see these early humanists as the heroes of whatever story is told about them but the possibility that not all magic and fortune-telling was fake, is really quite thought-provoking.  By overriding all mythos, did the early rationalists neglect an aspect of the human potential that is (maybe) now forever lost to us?  

The secret societies of the Reborn and their struggle against the overwhelming inertia of the superstition-based worldview of Scholasticism makes for fascinating reading.  And some of their methods, both in the beginning and especially later—when they started getting the upper hand—were as horrible as any persecution of rationalists by the Church.  

I thought the writing style was concise, with good, consistent characterization and an unwavering sense of mood.  Somehow, Ms. Clarke established a dark, almost brooding atmosphere very early and maintained it throughout the story.  Not an easy task, and I am greatly impressed by the technique.  She seemed to pull this off not with descriptive text, but with the interactions of the characters.   The fear, semi-distrust and uneasiness that different factions felt toward each other was palpable.  And yet the different disciplines had to work together to solve the mystery.  A very subtle, difficult and professional approach.

I plan on trying to study and steal.  .  .uh.  .  .appropriate that stylistic approach at my earliest opportunity.

Like Joan of Arc during her final moments, well done.

Bill Wolfe
"I am Susan Ivanova. . . .I am the Right Hand of Vengence. . .I am Death Incarnate, and the last living thing that you are ever going to see. God sent me."
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Post September 10, 2007, 01:32:23 PM

Re: The Shadowy Man  By Elena Clarke

Somehow, I knew this was a female writer. I didn’t glance at the Ms. Clark’s name before reading the story. That’s neither good nor bad, just an interesting observation. There seems to be some subtle differences between male and female writers that I can usually pick up on, although it’s difficult to explain. However, there are some concrete examples that I thought fairly obvious. I’ll comment on those below.

I thought this a pretty solid story. It seemed well polished with sympathetic characters and a rich backdrop for events to unfold. Like a good writer, she doesn’t have the setting overwhelm the narrative. She cleverly intertwines the potential infodumps into the story proper, so that it augments instead of distracts. The plot is also strong, allowing for good character interaction and suspense. She avoids a clichéd ending with a resolution that I did not foresee.

One thing I didn’t think worked as well was the pacing from the catacombs and beyond. It seemed a bit too slow at times, although that might be a writer/reader preference. I’m a believer that pacing should reflect the urgency of the situation. When things are approaching the climax, the pace should pick up. Both the wandering of the catacombs and the dialogue with the shadowy man needed to be tightened up a tad.

Another thing is that I assumed this was set within Italy during the Renaissance, although I solely base that on the names of the characters. They seemed very Latin. I did not recall anything that explicitly stated the setting as Italy, but I might have missed it. That gave me a certain mindset about how the characters should act. (I did try to fight this predilection but my subconscious prevailed). To me the male characters acted a bit feminine, lacking a certain machismo that I would, right or wrong, associate with a male character of this time period (or even of this time period, especially during football season… ba-da-bing). To me, this was less an issue of how they thought but how they acted. That’s when I sensed this was a female writer. The male characters were just a little bit off. I assume that women can point to a number of flaws with my female characters. It’s just very difficult to get into the mind of the opposite sex.

Overall, a good story from a capable writer.
"Even the straight arrow needs a crooked bow."
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jaimie l. elliott

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Post October 06, 2007, 12:57:48 PM

Re: The Shadowy Man  By Elena Clarke

Or maybe it takes a woman to truly get into the mind of a Renaissance Man. :)

I agree with Jaimie, but perhaps for different reasons.

Giacomo was a complex character. As a father myself, I realized he's not just a father figure to Luca. He's father, mentor, and friend. In short, he's more a mother figure, at least when I compare my own parents to him. Fiercely capable of defending a child, intensely patient, devoted to seeing that the child's needs are met... everything you'd want in parenting partner.

Fathers are more willing to let their child fall down, so they can learn to stand up again. (Maybe that was just my own.) That's not to say a father won't fight to save a child... but they are less likely to think everything through while doing it. I think the expression in the Untouchables was "You can get farther with a kind word and a gun, than just a kind word." Somebody steals a dad's kid, he's getting the gun (or sword, as the case may be), or will want to. I'd have lost my temper way earlier with the fortune tellers and demanded answers... but I'm probably not a Renaissance Man.

The one other thing that struck me as off was the guards in the catacombs admitting they were afraid so easy. They may well have been afraid, but they wouldn't own up to it so readily.

And just checking... Giacomo never did promise, did he?

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