By Jack Dann



346pp/$18.99/November 2019

Shadows in the Stone
Cover by Bob Eggleton

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

In 1995, Jack Dann published the novel The Memory Cathedral, a secret history of Leonardo da Vinci that demonstrated an understanding of the Renaissance and brought an interesting depth and perspective to the period and the characters. Dann has now published a novel that is unrelated to the earlier book, yet its setting during the Renaissance almost makes it a companion volume to the earlier book. Shadows in the Stone offers a look at a Renaissance shaped by the supernatural forces of angels and devils and a complete reconsideration of the role of the demiurge.

Starting with the gnostic heresy, Dann introduces the readers to Lucian, a Jewish boy who watches the Knights of Cain kill his parents, but manages to escape to Florence and the home of Pico Della Mirandola, a powerful wizard. Lucian finds that he also has mystical powers that may far surpass his master even as the forces of Renaissance Italy line up against him. One of his unlikely allies is Louisa, a woman pulled from nineteenth century America to become the avatar of Sophia, wisdom.

Dann not only combines his fiction with historical events of the period, such as the assassination of Giuliano de’ Medici in the Duomo, with evocative language that spotlights not only the opulence of fifteenth century Florence, but also the magical and divine elements that he weaves throughout the story. The world he explores with is richly textured and the characters are varied, with Lucian, Louisa, Mirandola, and Isabella, one of Mirandola's cousins, providing divergent views of the world, both natural and supernatural, they are moving through. The presence of the demiurge and its heavenly allies and foes sets up a high stakes situation, only hinted at by the opening scene in which Lucian's world collapsed and giving Lucian a reason to fight against the collapse of his world a second time.

The shifting alliances between the humans and non-humans gives the impression of a book with a much larger cast than is actually included. At times the shifting nature of Lucian's world makes it difficult to track action or motivations, but eventually Dann brings his characters and their motivations back into focus and events move towards their inexorable conclusion. All too often the battle between good and evil takes on a simplistic narrative or falls back on the Manichean duality, but Dann's handling of the situation, placing the demiurge in an atypical positions, offers an added depth to the conflict between the two forces.

Shadows in the Stone presents a mystical version of the Renaissance, compared to the more scientifically grounded view Dann put forward in The Memory Cathedral. Taken together, both books offer complementary takes of the preiod, for although there was a strong rational movement in the Renaissance as men of letters and men who were forging the groundwork for science tried to put the superstition of the Medieval period behind them, many of the mystical beliefs that they were trying to ignore remained strong, not only among the common man, but among those who were trying to forge a new way forward, for not only was the Renaissance a time of science, but it was also a time of alchemy.

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