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Ombria In Shadow (2003)

Ombria in Shadow (2003)
3.98 of 5 Votes: 5
0441010164 (ISBN13: 9780441010165)
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Ombria In Shadow (2003)
Ombria In Shadow (2003)

About book: A beautiful but frustrating book.I will give Ombria this: it features one of McKillip's best openings, of the Prince of Ombria's mistress and young son playing with hand puppets, while awaiting news of their lord's demise. Soon it comes, and with it the rise of the evil Domina Pearl to power, for though Kyel is rightful heir to the throne, she must act as regent until he comes to age. The mistress is cast out on the street, and Domina (nicknamed the Black Pearl by the frightened masses) begins to enact her terrible plan to oppress the people of Ombria and rob them of all hope. A cast of colorful characters unites to circumvent her schemes. There is Lydea, the dead prince's lover, who finds herself in a city and a life she no longer knows, with a father who has forgotten how to love. There is Kyel's bastard cousin, the silver-eyed and white-haired Ducon Greve, whose days are filled with chalk and paper, as he uses art in an attempt to discover the secret of his past, and Ombria's future. And there is Mag, a local sorceress' waxling, who one day discovers she has a human heart after she swallows a golden one. Ready to meet them all is Domina Pearl, a woman of uncharted past, neither living nor dead, whose very villainy is dusty and stifling.Writing memorable villains is not one of McKillip's strengths, but Domina Pearl is a stunning exception. She is ancient, wears her hair like a black beehive, and her bones crack as she walks; I can imagine Tim Burton having a field day with her character.But the warm, beating heart at the center of the book is the relationship between Lydea and Kyel. Despite being no blood relation, Lydea cares so much for her dead lover's child that she infiltrates the palace under a magical disguise and seeks to bring Kyel—who has been enchanted by Domina Pearl—to some kind of awareness. I want to quote at length the scene in which he recognizes her. She has just finished telling him the story of the Shadow City, which they had been reenacting with puppets at the very beginning of the book.He stared at her. She smiled, her mouth shaking, and two tears spilled out of him, fell like rain among his letters. He leaned toward her, let his brow fall against hers; she cupped the crown of his head in her hand. she whispered, "I am your secret. Your secret Mistress Thorn. Remember when we played with the puppets?" He nodded against her; she felt him trembling. "I was the goose and you were the falcon."[...]"She sent you away," he whispered, his voice no more than the scratch of quill on paper."I came back.""She'll find you again.""She doesn't remember who I am. So you must not remind her. Say my name." He breathed it against her cheek. "No, my lord. Not here in the other side of the story. We are in the Shadow City, and I am Mistress Thorn."He drew back from her a little. "Then who am I?"She touched his face, swallowing, drew his hair back from his eyes. "In the Shadow City, you are my heart."That's beauty. That's magic. That's McKillip.So why is the book disappointing? In a word, the ending. I won't go into many details, but effectively, several of the characters end up forgetting the events of the book. On my first reading of Ombria several years ago, I felt like it came out of left field, but after a recent reread, I could see how it had been hinted at throughout, even in the story that Lydea tells Kyel. Yet it still feels like a cop-out. What's the point of a happily ever after if you forget the struggle it took to get there?

this is a beautiful, dreamy fantasy. it is about a fallen city, the mysterious city under that city, two magical beings, a royal bastard, a cast-out mistress, a kind of changeling, a curious scholar, a lonely child prince. it is about ruthless control and equally ruthless revolution against that control. although it does not have faerie, it is a fairy tale, one that is both modern and classic in tone and structure. the writing is splendid; McKillip's words are like gems that she strings together to make a sparkling kind of wonderful. she does not overwrite her story; her prose is lusciously rich, almost edible - but it is also streamlined, stripped-down, full of ambiguity and meaning yet never spelling things out too explicitly, never getting lost in detail. sometimes you have to step back, to appreciate the vivid beauty conveyed on the page, to wonder over the mysteries being so carefully teased out, piece by piece. the setting, the city of Ombria, is a marvel: a sad, gloomy, violent, desperately alive place, one that has fallen far from its glorious history; a sad, gloomy, mysteriously un-alive un-place, a shadow city beneath and between and co-existing with the living spaces of Ombria, an un-living history. Ombria in Shadow is full of magic, tragedy, mystery, and love.MAGIC: it is front and center. don't expect rules to this magic, although it doesn't feel random. it is simply not spelled out. it is as ambiguous and mythic as the rest of the tale. its two sorceresses - one a fell and fungal villain of the darkest hues and the other an unsettling force of nature, change, and potential catastrophe - are marvelous creations.TRAGEDY: there are the central tragedies, of course, the greater ones that dominate the narrative. but McKillip does an excellent job in making the tragedy hurt beyond those larger strokes, beyond the death of a king, beyond the attempted murders, beyond the ruination of a city. she makes the tragedy felt in many small ways... casual violence in the night, the distance between father and daughter, lovers parted and lost, the feeling of disempowerment, the loneliness of a little boy.MYSTERY: answers are almost always tantalizingly out of reach, parsed out little by little, nothing ever simply dumped on the reader. the ending gives you answers, but they are not straightforward, they require contemplation and a willingness to forsake easy answers and easy satisfaction. when they come, the answers were almost as mysterious as the mysteries themselves. that said, when the riddles of the nature of the two sorceresses were finally answered, separately... marvelous to read, perfect.LOVE: my gosh i was delighted about the Love that is at the heart of this tale. specifically, the love between children and those people in their lives who love them and care for them - be they parents or friends or guardians. of course i have nothing against Romantic Love and its place in any story. but how refreshing to have that focus changed! there are Love Stories in Ombria, naturally. but this book has at its heart Familial Love - with "family" being one that is both born and chosen.this is the kind of book that you just want to hold close to your heart, be sentimental over, and think about again... but perhaps not talk about, at least not too much. it is a delicate book, like most precious things.
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Setting/World Building: 5/5Main Character: 3/5 (If only because there were 3 of them, and it was a bit confusing bouncing back and forth. In the process, some of them got less depth than they should have.)Other Characters: 4/5Plot: 4/5Writing: 5/5Triggering/Issues: 5/5 None AVERAGED TOTAL: 4.3 out of 5, rounded to 4.This was a very beautiful, poetic book. There's no doubt about that. McKillip's writing is always very poetic, but this book was written especially so. It's done in this way that sort of weaves it with the story, makes it suit and fit the shadowy, mysterious, magical plot. It was beautiful written, there is no doubt about that. This is the sort of book that leaves you wondering after, leaves you feeling a little bit lost and caught up in it's shadowy magic, still. For that alone, I recommend reading it.My only frustrations in the book were in the split perspectives, and the ending. I liked all three of the main perspective characters in the book, Ducon, Lydea, and Mags. But I found the switching perspectives a bit frustrating at times, when I really wanted to focus on just Mags and Lydea. For example, I really liked Lydea, but I think she suffered as a character from the focus-split, because she didn't get as much development as she could have. Ducon had a very interesting backstory and was well developed, but occasionally I groaned at his chapters because I just wanted more of Lydea or Mags.The ending was just as mysterious and shadowy as the whole book, and to be honest I had to google a bit after to help clarify it. See, in the end of the book: (view spoiler)[A lot of the characters seem to have forgotten the events that came before, except for Mags and Faey. It wasn't so clear to me, but apparently what happened is that when the Shadow World came into the normal world, it changed it. It left behind a slightly different world when it faded, and that's what we're supposed to realize from Lydea's story. Basically, in the new world, Mags was the baby that the Princess had with the man in the Shadow world, not Ducon. Since Mag's locket also existed when she was given to Faey, it creates this interesting sort of time paradox/magic too, where Faey sort of lives below the worlds/in all worlds, so both "truths" sort of existed at the same time? (hide spoiler)]
This one didn't quite capture me. There were certain compelling chapters where I could feel McKillip's narrative drive starting to make its presence known, but it never quite coalesced. And the ending was quite cryptic - I'm really not sure what happened there.The other McKillip novel I've read, In the Forests of Serre, was on a totally different level - the atmosphere she conjured up in that one was just amazing, and after a point the narrative became a tidal wave that just grabbed me by the neck and refused to let go. But somehow Ombria won 2 awards (World Fantasy, Mythopoeic), while Forests won none. .
I'm only going to review this one book of Patricia McKillip's (ok, maybe one other). I think she is consistently underrated as a fantasy author, at least by me. I never think of her when I think about my favority fantasy writers, but she is wonderful. All of her books are amazing, bordering on mythology and legend, as though they were written in time immemorial and she just discovered and published them. This one in particular touched me deeply, even though (as often happens with her work) I almost didn't understand what really happened. I just know I was moved, awed, shaken... She is brilliant, and I don't think she even dwells on the same plane as the rest of us. Not all of her work is as good as this (see my ratings) but all of it aspires to the same high level, which is more than I can say for so many writers.
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