Book Report: Ombria in Shadow
1 September 2004, 10:31 AM
Two weeks ago, Chris Cobb recommended Ombria in Shadow when I said that I enjoyed a different Patricia McKillip book. I picked up this one, and enjoyed it far more than the previous one. There are flaws, of course, and I didn’t particularly like the ending. On the whole, though, it was terrific: sweet, spooky, surprising.
There’s a dreamlike atmosphere to it. That’s my main complaint about the ending, as it happens; it’s too much in keeping with that dreamlike atmosphere, which makes it less powerful. Throughout the book, though, I frequently enjoyed the descriptions of things I couldn’t quite visualize, that didn’t work the way they should. The world is not a logical one, not simply in the sorcery but in the way it all looks and smells. I can understand how a reader would dislike it—I suspect I would have hated it fifteen years ago myself—but it works for me.
It’s also a refutation of the entertaining maxim that any sufficiently advanced magic is indistinguishable from technology. In many books, that’s true; magic works much like a combination of computer algorithms and athletic prowess. In the Harry Potter books, for instance, being a good wizard is much like being a good Quidditch player, and requires the same sort of combination of practice, study, and ‘heart’ as Quidditch, or for that matter cricket, or windsurfing. There’s intuition, of course, but there’s a good deal of intuition in technology as well. My point is just that magic is, in many books, rule-based and, you know, indistinguishable from technology. In this book, magic is ... something else. Which is interesting, and powerful to read. I wouldn’t like this to be what everybody writes, but I’m glad I read it.