Title: Umbral Ten
Author: Douglas Murphy
Publication date: April 21, 2020
Summary: When mage Theodosia wakes in Starkwind Monastery with no memory of what happened after a routine ceremony to renew a sacred tree began, she finds herself in the company of five others in a world that no longer makes sense and that now has a blood red moon in the sky. Hoping to find passage back to the mainland, they head to the small town they had all initially passed through, only to find a radically different world, and a town that now needs their help when a mage from Theodosia’s past arrives with monsters in tow.
Last month I had the honor of working with Mr. Murphy to post an excerpt of his novel on my blog. At the time, I was not accepting book review requests, but, as soon as I finished reading the excerpt, I decided to buy it. I’m so glad I did because this book, while a bit rough, dropped right into what feels like an exceptional world with an intriguing story that just has so many threads looped around.
The Characters: Remarkably Fun Cast
It’s easy for me to like and enjoy a book when I love the characters. This book definitely has a varied and incredibly fun cast. I loved that they were remarkably different from each other and were so incredibly consistent. There was a brilliant balance of seriousness and humor, which went surprisingly well together considering this is dark fantasy.
I really enjoyed the varied cast of powerful mage, honorable Church knight, common-speaking nun, bookish junior librarian who had probably read every book in the college library, and a couple of fascinating mercenaries. My favorite character, though, had to be the junior librarian Jakob because, well, librarian. He’s clearly the bookish sort and was completely out of water when it came to battle. I really felt for him and identified with him. Still, I enjoyed them all and they made quite a group! I loved the surprises they had up their sleeves, but my favorite parts were when they were butting heads and finding ways to work together. It was fun to get to know them better as they clashed. All in all, they were just so much fun and really meshed well together. Somehow they found a common cause and noble intentions despite their wildly different histories.
The Setting: An Exceptionally Well-Crafted World
This felt like a massive, well-thought out world. It’s complete with geography and religion that were exceedingly well-laid out at the beginning of each chapter. Those pieces really explained a lot about the world without info dumping or using too many words. They felt like they just slipped in and enhanced the world.
This is a fascinating world, probably because so much of it is based on the religion. There seemed to really only be one religion, but each race had it’s own unique take on it. Surprisingly, this book didn’t read as being particularly religious, but it felt like much of the world and story were built up on it. It has a fascinating mythology.
Since this world does feel quite massive, and the end hints at far flung travels in the upcoming books, I was so glad that much of the story was confined to one island. There was so much to the world that I think I would have felt like I’d been thrown in the deep end had the travels and adventures started right in the middle of this book. It gives a nice taste of the world without being overwhelming.
Lastly, the magic system is equally interesting. It’s not unique in that it requires a device of sorts and special words, among other things, but I felt like it was such an art form and that care had been taken with how magic was done in this world. It was beautiful.
The Plot: A Perfect Introduction to the Series
This book did not shape up to be what I expected, but in a good way. I thought it would be standard fantasy fare with a problem that needs to be solved with extensive world traveling. This isn’t a particularly long book, so I was afraid we’d just get going and then there would be an infuriating cliffhanger right in the middle of the interesting part (I can’t stand books that do that). But none of that happened. This is a fully contained story, but I have to say the plot just felt like it exploded right at the end. There’s so much more to this story and I really want to know what happens next. There are so many threads that are introduced throughout this book and I’m dying to know where they all lead.
I loved that I was flung into the story. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. I enjoy being dropped into the middle of the story, but it bothers me when the author just goes off at a gallop, expecting the reader to just pick up on everything. This book worked because not even the characters knew what was going on. From there, it just unraveled so naturally and at a lovely pace that allowed the reader to both grasp the world and the story while also continually moving forward.
This book is a nice setup for the rest of the series, introducing the greater story, the world, and the characters in easily digestible chunks. At the same time, it’s a fairly standard quest story. The world and the characters, though, are fascinating enough that I think the story will continue to be intriguing and there will still be surprises enough to keep me on my toes. After all, I felt this first book was very smartly done, introducing just enough without overwhelming while also hinting at a huge world and story. It moved at a really good pace and has some wonderful mysteries in it that I look forward to seeing solved. I did feel like the characters just skipped over trying to puzzle some of it out, or even mentioning it, but I guess they had other things on their minds! Some things just felt too easy and other things made me wonder if the characters had just backed themselves up into a corner they could no longer escape from.
Overall: Surprisingly Fun, and Dark
For dark fantasy, this was a surprisingly fun read. I adored the characters, loved the world, and am really excited about where the story is going. It all works together so well. I’m really looking forward to the next book and seeing these characters again. This is a relatively quick read with so much packed into, but it never seemed like it was too much. Everything was woven really well together. The only thing that bothered me was I think one of the characters might have been female at one point because he and her were used interchangeably. It was annoying, but easy enough to skip over because the author did a really good job of sticking with the chosen perspective for each section.
How many cups of tea will you need?
4 will be perfect
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The author, Douglas Murphy, was kind enough to allow me to post an excerpt of this novel, so please do follow this link to take a peek at the novel.