Ombria in Shadow

Ombria in Shadow [4.5/5]
by Patricia A. McKillip
(Ace Books, a division of Penguin Putnam, trade Feb 2003)

I finished reading this a couple weeks ago, and have not yet had time to sit down and compose a review. A short synopsis: In a fantastic city, now in decline, the death of its reigning prince sets a political dance for supremacy into motion. As the power hungry regent tightens control over the young heir, his disenfrachised cousin of mysterious and illegitimate origins and the former monarch’s castoff mistress unite their efforts with some unlikely and unusual allies in an attempt to free the young boy from the machinations of those at court. In doing so, they stir up legends and must also engage with an old tale of change wrought by the rise of the Shadow City in their own world.

As always, McKillip’s prose is exquisite, particularly suitable to this fairy tale that also pays homage to many elements of the gothic literary tradition. The characters are fascinating sketches of otherwise tired archetypes: the evil sorceress (Domina Pearl), the bastard prince (Ducon Greve), the orphan (Mag), and so forth. Their growth throughout the story as they react to how the death of their ruler changes their lives gives this tale emotional depth. The plot moves quickly — perhaps at times too much so — and there are a myriad of threads and subthreads to follow. No one character seems to emerge as a protagonist, but as a team, the cast tells the story well. Still, there are a few things left unresolved at the end of the book which left me wanting more. While the worldbuilding is an extravaganza of imagination, there were times I wished a few things had been articulated a bit more clearly throughout. All in all, though, a beautiful book and a wonderful reading experience. Definitely recommended.

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