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I'm trying to remember a setting I read at least one short story or novella in (I think there were several stories). The only distinctive feature I can really remember about the story/stories is that some people had an ability to cut a person's shadow away from that person. This granted them some kind of useful power. I don't remember what gave people this power; possibly it was a special kind of knife? I think the setting felt like it was inspired by Renaissance-era Italy (it may even have been somewhere in an alternate Italy) in terms of technology, names, general ambience, etc. The story/stories were about politics, subterfuge, theft, and so on. There may have been guild conflict. I believe there were compound words involving "shadow"; the term "shadowknife" comes to my mind, but there aren't really any search results so I could be wrong on that. There may have been other magic elements (wizards, occultism, something else), but I can't say with confidence that there were. There may have been some kind of shadow world or shadow realm or whatever, but in my recollection no human characters ever travel there.

I read the story/stories in the early-mid 2010s (or possibly late 2000s), likely in an SF or fantasy magazine. The magazine was probably Fantasy & Science Fiction, but there's an outside chance it was Asimov's or some other magazine. I am confident that it was a physical medium. The magazine might have been older than the 2010s, possibly as old as the early-mid 1990s (I had some back issues). I read the story in English. I think it's possible that there are books in the same setting, but I'm pretty sure what I read was a short story or novella.

Some search results that keep coming up that I'm confident this is not are:

  • Conservation of Shadows by Yoon Ha Lee, as the story did not involve guns, shadow or otherwise.
  • The Seventh Tower series by Garth Nix, as I don't believe the story featured children, and also those are books while I believe this to have been a shorter work.
  • The Night Angel trilogy by Brent Weeks, as they don't involve the cutting of shadows, and those are books while I believe this to have been a shorter work.

Updates based on comments:

  • I think cutting the shadow gives the power to the person who has cut the shadow away, not the person who has lost the shadow. Possibly not having a shadow gave you some kind of unique attribute that could be useful, but the actual desirable effect went to the person who got the shadow.
  • It could be about stealing shadows using silver nails. The stealing shadows part, certainly. The silver nails, I'm not sure. I can't find the story based only on the description in DavidW's comment.
  • I don't think it's The Subtle Knife - parts of it match (hell, I even read the trilogy in 2009), but its technology level is too high, the story/stories I'm thinking of have more to do with shadows and less to do with transfer between worlds, and it's a book series while I think I read a magazine story. The scary, you-can't-trust-your-own-memory explanation for my memories would be that I mixed several stories together to form the one I remember and this is one of them, but I'm not ready to give up like that.
  • It's not The Fisherman and His Soul - I would have noticed if the story were written in language that old.
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    Parts of this sound like elements from The His Dark Materials series by Philip Pullman. Not strictly shadows but there is stuff about cutting a should away from a body and there is a knife that can open portals between worlds. Part of the story takes place in a city called Cittàgazze which has a very italian feel to it.
    – skyjack
    Feb 8 at 8:08
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    @skyjack Yes, I know this story. And it looks more the OP's story than mine. Why don't you propose it as an answer instead of a comment ? What do you mean by "a should" ? What was cut away was the children's Daemons.
    – Alfred
    Feb 8 at 8:35
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    @skyjack It does sound a lot like "The Subtle Knife" from "His Dark Materials". I don't think it was published as short stories in a magazine though (though I could be wrong). Feb 8 at 13:53
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    In "Peter Pan", Peter is chasing his shadow, that has been cut-off and must be sewn back on!
    – Stef
    Feb 8 at 15:46
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    Partial match to Gunnerkrigg Court, with a sub-plot of shadows with independent lives and the ability to shift from character to character.
    – bob1
    Feb 9 at 0:45

3 Answers 3

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I've done some more looking, and I've found what I'm looking for: the novella The Maze of Shadows by Fred Chappell, the cover story from the May/June 2012 issue of F&SF. I can't find the text of the story itself, but I found a review here that seems like the right story:

Maze of Shadows by Fred Chappell is the novella featured in the current (May/June 2012) issue of Fantasy and Science Fiction magazine. The editor's note states that Mr. Chappell's tales of Falco the apprentice shadow master, of which Maze is the latest, began appearing in F&SF in 2007.

Maze is a well-written, entertaining swords and sorcery fantasy and mystery story all rolled into one, and the combo works beautifully, as I daresay it does in my short story "Nightmare in Xipan." Interestingly, there are no discernable science fiction elements in the story, even though F&SF states in its submission guidelines that having a sci-fi element, however small, is a requirement for publication in the magazine.

This was the first Falco story that I have ever read, and I am eager to read more of them. Mr. Chappell's world is set in a kind of Italy during the Renaissance, but it is clearly a world other than our own. In this world, shadows can be captured (or stolen--but don't call Falco a thief!) and used by shadow masters in various, interesting ways. This makes for a unique scheme of magic--reason enough to open the book--but it was the cast of fascinating and mysterious characters that kept me turning the pages.

The way I found it was just by scrolling through F&SF issues on their website until I found one with a cover I recognized and a table of contents entry that seemed relevant.

Given the name of the author and some characters from that story, I was able to find an excerpt of the novel that was written in the setting, A Shadow of All Light. This setting (if the stories are called anything, it seems to usually be the "Falco" stories after their main character) is certainly the one I was thinking of.

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Well, I found something about a man cutting his own shadow away from himself.

It is The Fisherman and his Soul by Oscar Wilde.

It does not match most of your memories, so it is probably not what you are looking for. The only common point is that a magic knife is used to cut a shadow away from a person, but the man does it to himself. In this story, the shadow is the very Soul of the man. After a dialogue where the Soul beseeches the man not to send him away, the man uses the magic knife he had obtained from a witch.

‘Get thee gone, for I have no need of thee,’ cried the young Fisherman, and he took the little knife with its handle of green viper’s skin, and cut away his shadow from around his feet, and it rose up and stood before him, and looked at him, and it was even as himself.

He crept back, and thrust the knife into his belt, and a feeling of awe came over him. ‘Get thee gone,’ he murmured, ‘and let me see thy face no more.’

The man is a Fisherman, the setting is definitely not Italian Renaissance. And it is a great english classic, not something to be found in a magazine, albeit a short story with a definite Fantasy aspect

I am satisfied that this is the story that I remembered, the one to which I had alluded in my comment above, so I propose this answer, just in case.

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The idea of cutting off shadows reminded me of "the End of the world" by Haruki Murakami.
It comes in a pair with another story, "Hard-Boiled Wonderland". But the connection between the two is spoilery.

"Hard-Boiled Wonderland" is a story of subterfuge, and "the End of the World" is a story of wonder, and indeed regular people can't access it's setting normally.

But this is where the similarities end. Iirc there are no wizards, no Italy, and basically nothing else you described. Only the shadow-cutting.

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  • The OP has already stated that the story they were looking for is in fact The Maze of Shadows by Fred Chappell. Unless you think that's the wrong story, it's not really worth submitting new answers at this point, as the aim of answering story-ID questions like this should be to find the right story, not just similar stories. Feb 10 at 12:01

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