Thursday, January 27, 2011

Ombria in Shadow by Patricia McKillip - Read in 2005

Congratulations to Big Pine Lodge-type Debbie: a random number generator tells me that you won my extra copy of Blue by Lou Aronica. Look for an e-mail on how to get it coming your way over the weekend.

Ombria in Shadow A few spare moments this week sent me back to my old blog to work on cleaning it out, and while it was a year in which I listed books I read more than I reviewed them, I did find a review I wrote of Ombria in Shadow by Patricia McKillip (Penguin - Ace). I liked this book, and it grew on me the more I thought about it. It's been a long time since I read this historical court intrigue mixed with fantasy, and I'm going to mark it as adult fantasy, though one I'm sure many YA readers would like.

Even though this book is nothing like the next two I'll name, it reminds me of them. It's like Pullman's His Dark Materials in that the author starts where the story starts--there's no handholding or explaining what is different about this universe. It also reminds me a little of Yann Martel's Life of Pi. And I hesitate to say why if you haven't read that one!

McKillip plays with spatial, temporal, perceptional (okay, I made that word up) and moral ambiguity, but the spatial and temporal are the ones that can make you a bit dizzy. I felt like I wasn't entirely sure what was going on, sometimes, or what had happened, or how.

The writing style of Ombria in Shadow is ornate, but not overwhelmingly so. McKillip uses words in ways people often forget to use them, or uses words that are dusty but still fine, or to uses words suit her own ends. The only thing that made me a little wriggly is that many things are described as being pearls when one of the characters is named Domina Pearl; when I read this last, I couldn't find anything unifying all the references. Handily, that might mean that it's time for a re-read.

Royalty dies, leaving behind his mistress and a son; Domina Pearl, ageless and sort-of evil...person holds the fate of the kingdom in her hands; Ducon Greve can see across this and a shadow world; and Mag, of unknown origin, has a foot in both. The complicated plot could easily have held romance or even erotica, and that's where many stories would go, but instead, the characters' lives intersect along the way to the kingdom's final fate and the relationships--self-history, mother-daughter, allies-foes--are far more compelling and complicated for their tight focus.

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