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Ombria in Shadow    by Patricia McKillip order for
Ombria in Shadow
by Patricia McKillip
Order:  USA  Can
Ace, 2003 (2002)
Hardcover, Paperback, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Ombria begins with the death of its prince, who leaves behind his small son Kyel, his red-haired mistress Lydea, and his ambiguous bastard nephew Ducon Greve. Ombria is unusual in having a shadow city 'existing side by side with Ombria in a time so close to us that there are places ... where one time fades into the other, one city becomes the other.'

Unfortunately, the dead prince also leaves behind his sorcerous 'raven-eyed hag' of a great-aunt, Domina Pearl, who becomes regent. Her first act is to toss Lydea out into the dangerous streets in all her finery. There Lydea soon loses her bejewelled shoes and expects to die, but something protects her as she flees to an uncertain welcome in her father's tavern, the Rose and Thorn.

Another (neutral) sorceress Faey lives under this city whose past and present meet, with her young 'waxling' Mag. We watch as Mag discovers her humanity through laughter, and begins to thwart Faey, who carries out magical commissions for city people, including Domina Pearl. Mag becomes curious about Ducon after Faey is paid to poison him. She also sets out to meet Lydea.

Lydea, in turn, is anxious to find a way back into the palace in order to protect Kyel, and eventually does so with Faey's assistance. But Domina Pearl has (ensorcelled) eyes everywhere, and eventually a confrontation pulls in all the key characters and resolves the mysteries of their origins.

McKillip is a writer known for her elegance ... Lydea 'felt worry sharpen itself on the whetstone of each passing day'. I also enjoyed viewpoints like Mag's somewhat cynical notion that 'from what I've seen of both alchemy and marriage, all the marvels lie in the expectation.' While this author's stories are always unique and engaging, her turns of phrase also linger long in memory.

Patricia McKillip is one of the giants of fantasy, The Riddle Master of Hed being her best-known series. I've always loved The Forgotten Beasts of Eld and found the more recent Song for the Basilisk to be a powerful work. Ombria in Shadow is equally strong. It will be released in paperback soon, and is not to be missed.

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