Lucinda Elliot

‘Umbra Magic’ by Christina Herlyn : Review: Four and a Half Stars for an Excellent Dystopian Story Enlivened by Humour


Four and a half stars for an excellent read – with a hero I really like (despite my last few posts, this can happen now and then with me). Andromeda Bochs, the original ‘kick arse’ heroine – that’s my British spelling coming out – who refuses to be known as anything but Andee– is back in an exciting sequel.
As ever, the action flows quickly, the writing is vivid, the characterisation is compelling, and the humour is great. This writer is able to make you laugh when  to writing about a nightmare dystopian world – quite an achievement. And that dystopian world is highly original and crafted to be wholly convincingy. I found my suspension of disbelief total, and I think half of that is to be found in the believable characters.
Once again, Andee is battling:
1. Her old employer, the all-powerful government organisation M-Kes
2. Her inner demon, the shadow monster she inherited along with an ancestral curse
3. Her feelings for her former boss, Josiah Hightower, now revealed as the leader of an underground resistance movement.
4. The sudden, sinister interest that one of the heads of the organisation, Chancellor Galegi, has taken in her disguised self
5. A hidden, unknown enemy with irresistible trance inducing powers.
6. This is leaving aside the hideous monsters who have emerged from the earth’s crust to terrorise mankind: Dune Dragons, giant Scorpians, distorted and malevolent kangaroo like carnivores, and a general hideous assortment of creatures.
Well, Andee does like a fight, as long as she has her firefrog boots and her beloved katana to hand…
Since killing the Ancient Provost Allen, Andee has been working mainly by herself, trying to come to terms with her inner monster, sending teenage Evolutionaries to contacts who can help them, but now her old friend Mac, turns up and persuades her to rejoin the group.
The Solar Eclipse is coming, and it is then that the resistance must act. They need the help of an isolated group of isolated mages in the Texhoma desert. Josiah sends Andee- who is still an object of terror to the others, her wilful horse Pegasus, the super geek scientist Mac, who brings along his magical cat BOR, Dunstan, the officious Mrs Holt’s seemingly amiable brother, and a couple more to investigate.
Here, they meet a group waited on by servile sand goblins, torn by inner conflicts and loyalties. Most alarming is the ‘coyote’ Mnica, who equals Andee’s late work colleague the Enforcer, the incubus Waya, in macho arrogance, duplicity, threatening masculine appeal and beguiling dark eyes. His powers are far more exceptional than he cares to reveal.
Is it he who is trying to destroy Andee in her sleep, or the icy new leader Asa, or Dunstan, who is behaving surreptitiously, or the sullen teenager seeming Mitchel?
I have already said how much I like the independent minded Andee, the complete antithesis of the sort of heroine who resigns her independence the moment the hero deigns to care enough to want to protect her.
I also really like the male lead Josiah in this; he is just the right combination of alpha and sensitive, straightforward and enigmatic, physical and cerebral. I really enjoy seeing him and Andee together. In fact, it is he who ironically has made me deduct half a point and make this a four and a half star read, as I didn’t think we were given enough of him and Andee together.
Here are some of my favourite quotes: there’s some wonderful humour here: –

‘“Well, I left a small mess.” I’d left two broken windows, a burned-up recliner, and a pile of dead monsters.’
‘The knee-high, volcanic boulder sat in the middle of the practice mat in my Dungeon like an odd attempt at feng shui.’
‘“Are you going to turn into a giant bird and give them a ride?” I mainly asked to cover my reaction to Seraphina; and to remind everyone I was a smartass.
Josiah’s eyes turned stormier than I expected. “I fly for my benefit. I’m not public transportation.”’
‘It didn’t take a lot of magic to encourage the slabs of rock below the sand to move. Rock led a slow, boring existence so it eagerly answered my call. I sensed the sinuous shape of the dune dragon accelerating through the rocks, and I squeezed two slabs together. Instead of propelling out of the dunes to hit the car, the monster stopped short, its tail caught between tons of rock.’
‘Then the no-neck, hairy face of a giant scorpion appeared. The segmented stinger rose several feet over the roof. The black eyes found me just as another scorpion joined it. They scuttled my direction. ‘
‘I drew my largest chakram and moved past Mac’s little history haven. “Stay inside for a minute, Mac.”
“What? Why?”
I rolled my eyes. “I want you to find every detail you possibly can.”
“Oh! You’re fascinated like me!”’
‘I was certain if I ever bothered to get engaged, I’d choose better. Membership in the ‘Women Josiah Finds Attractive Society’ no longer appealed to me.’
‘He (the dream Waya) grasped my chin and turned my face toward his eyes, smooth and dark as chocolate truffles. “I chose to give my life for something bigger than just you. You’re not that special. Stop with the guilt.”
He dropped his hand and slid off the roof. Silently he fell, never breaking eye contact until a shroud of fog swallowed him.
“Waya!” I woke on a gasp, clutching my chest just as I had in my dream. “What a jerk.”
He hadn’t changed much with death. He loved dramatic exits.’

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