Loved it! 😍

An absurdly fantastical journey that strikes at the hearts of stories and what they are.

The act of becoming is one that is both long and arduous. It takes time and effort to go from nothing to something. In contrast, the act of forgetting happens in but a moment, takes place so quickly it’s as if there was nothing there to begin with.

Yana Barbelo explores these things in Umbra. Or rather, the novel looks at what happens before and after one forgets, the journey to become on either side of life. We rise and fall with Ohno Hoia as she struggles to find herself amidst a terrible amnesia, only to be thrust back in time to her beginning halfway through the novel. It’s only then that we can get a clearer picture of who and what she is.

I’m not quite sure what to say about this other than that the absurdity of the novel’s second half more than makes up for the end of wonder in the first. Each part of it competes to top its predecessor in just how ridiculous it can get, down to some questionable use of Jesus Christ as a character, disembodied heads from Disneyland and, at one point, a journey in itself with a Baba Yaga-esque character.

Not that the “Book of Ohno” was by any means without its own excitement but rather, it was more of a straightforward narrative within a topsy-turvy world compared to the “Book of Umbritta”, particularly her adventures with the beach vagabonds Jesse and Jane, as well as the circus Mundus Vagus. I especially liked the second group for the richness of the characters, with Ivan the Terrible and the Wheelmaster Moia as standouts amidst an already varied group.

Of interest to readers of the absurd, however, would be the journey that Ohno’s younger self goes through in the second half of the book. While there is a linear path, much like the first half, it’s not at all straightforward. Rather, much of it is cloaked in the guise of the fantastic, a journey unlike any other that plays out for the reader in vivid detail. While I didn’t like parts of it for how confusing it could be, much of it was beautifully rendered and went along with the mostly grey illustrations that accompanied most of the chapters in the book.

Readers of the fantastic and the absurd, like the Edgewood Chronicles, who are looking for something in a more adult manner will do well to try this book out. It’s a story about becoming and a story about stories, and isn’t that narrative at its essence?

Reviewed by

A lifelong reader, I've decided to share my opinions, my likes and my loves with the world. Fantasy and science fiction have long been passions of mine, but so has bringing minority voices to the forefront.

About the author

Russian-American writer, artist, psychiatrist known for her love (some say - unholy fascination) with edges, fringes, brinks, and all manner of liminality. She writes and illustrates literary horror/New Weird fiction which explores the darkest contradictions of human nature. view profile

Published on October 27, 2020

100000 words

Contains mild explicit content ⚠️

Worked with a Reedsy professional 🏆

Genre: Horror

Reviewed by