In Ombria in Shadow McKillip interweaves the finer aspects of the fairy tale and the Gothic to evoke a sense of catharsis. Fairy tale pacing and characters are balanced carefully against the darker aspects of the Gothic setting to produce wonder, fear, and — in the end — renewed hope that the world not only can, but will, be a better place tomorrow. McKillip’s rich mix of deft characterization, adept world building, and artistic prose forms a magnificent tapestry.
Ombria is a city in decline ruled by the House of Greve and its current Prince, Royce Greve. Once a great and powerful trading center, its fortunes have fallen, and along with them, the hopes of its people. Around every corner is an abandoned inn, storefront or home; in every building is a sign of decay and impending collapse. Pirates have driven the port almost out of business. Its people are sinking into despondency. And the members of the House of Greve and the other nobles of the city are ill-prepared for the death of Royce. The heir, Kyel, is a child, and the woman who will be his Regent is an unnaturally old and power hungry woman of the House of Greve, Domina Pearl.
Like all great Gothic places, Ombria is also a city of secrets, both emotional and physical. From the title’s clear connections to the Latin “umbra” (meaning shade, shadow) the reader is instantly inspired to think of the interplay of light and darkness, of shadows. Beneath the city of Ombria is an almost deserted undercity, complete with mansions, riverwalks, and ghosts. This undercity is home to Faey, a sorceress older than the city itself, and her young apprentice Mag, who may be a creation of Faey or an orphaned human child. Those who need Faey’s help find their way to her through deserted storefronts and abandoned stairways, and she helps all comers, even when it means casting enchantments for both sides in a conflict.