Book Review: Umbral, Book One: Out of the Shadows, Antony Johnston & Christopher Mitten (2014)

Monday, July 21st, 2014


three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review through Goodreads’ First Reads program.)

Tasked by her boss, the Master of the Thieves Guild, with stealing a priceless artifact from the palace trophy room, Rascal unwittingly witnesses the murder of King Petor and Queen Innaline during the robbery. Worse still, her co-conspirator is none other than Prince Arthir, who soon joins his parents in the grave. Only, the rest of the world doesn’t yet know that the royal family is dead – because their killers, creatures from a hell dimension known collectively as the Umbral, are shape-shifters who have assumed the visages of the King, Queen, and Prince, as well as other key players in Strakhelm. Their goal? World domination. It’s up to young Rascal to keep the Occulus safe and out of Umbral hands.

Based on the book’s tag line – “Orphaned at birth. Raised by smugglers. Taken in by thieves. Running for her life.” – I had some crazy high hopes for Umbral, Book One: Out of the Shadows. A spunky young heroine! Doing crimes and taking names! In a multiverse! And pirates!

Alas, it was not to be. While the story idea is promising, Umbral never quite lives up to its potential. Between the shape shifting and the constant travel between dimensions (Rascal is somehow able to slip in and out of the Umbral), the story can sometimes get confusing – a problem not helped by the artwork, which is oftentimes sloppy and fails to clearly illustrate the many plot twists. For example, a few of the characters (e.g. Dalone and Master Gearge) look so much alike that at first glance they’re often hard to tell apart. And the hell and regular dimensions? So similar that they’re nearly indistinguishable. One just seems to be a different version of the present reality; the only way you can tell one from the other is through the narration, which isn’t always helpful, either.

(More below the fold…)