Esmay Rosalyne’s Spoiler-Free Review of The Umbral Storm by Alec Hutson
Publication date: 20 May 2022
Series: Book 1 in The Sharded Few
Genre: Epic Fantasy, Progression Fantasy
Rating: 3.5 stars
A thousand years ago the Heart of the World was shattered, its fragments scattered across the lands.
In the chaos that followed, martial orders arose to gather the shards, for it was found that great powers were granted when these pieces were bonded to the flesh of the chosen. These are the Sharded Few, warriors imbued with the divine energies that once coursed through the Heart, driven to absorb enough fragments to claim godhood.
Deryn has known nothing in his life except suffering. Orphaned at the edge of the realms, indentured to a cruel slaver, he has little hope of escaping his circumstances. But elsewhere, ancient powers are stirring, new alliances threaten the peace of the old order, and against all odds, Deryn will find himself a player in a game unlike anything he could have imagined.
Review of The Umbral Storm
The Umbral Storm was the SPFBO8 finalist that I wanted to save for the very end, because I was equally excited and nervous to check it out. I mean, I love me some good epic fantasy, but I wasn’t so sure what to expect from the progression fantasy aspects of this story. So, I decided it would be best to just go in with an open mind and let myself be swept away on this epic fantasy adventure. And whew, what an adventure it was.
The story mainly follows two young boys, Deryn and Heth, who couldn’t be more different from each other. Denryn is an orphaned indentured labourer, while Heth is the cocky and self-important son of the noble overlord who ‘owns’ Deryn. However, their lives are quickly turned upside down at the start of the book and from there we follow them along on a dangerous yet engaging fantasy adventure full of magic, prophecies, chosen ones, ancient evils, questing, a magic school, and found family! And even though there is nothing particularly groundbreaking or surprising about this plot, the story somehow still feels quite exciting and fresh.
I think the main highlight of this book is the magnificent world building. Every single aspect of this world is so well-developed and tangible, these lands truly feel lived-in and I love that! This story and world is just filled with intrigue and there’s so much to sink your teeth into; from the deep history and lore, to the unique flora and fauna, to the intriguing magic system, to the rich cultures and differing political factions, and finally to the fascinating fantastical creatures that are present in this world! If you like expansive fantasy worlds that you can totally get lost in, then this story will be a real treat for you. I personally loved exploring this world through our characters’ eyes as they travel these lands and level up in their powers, because it was really fun to learn about all the intricacies and mysteries of this world and the magic system along with them.
Now, as much as I adored the world building, I personally need more from a story to stay fully engaged. And sadly, the other aspects of this book didn’t manage to really win me over.
My biggest struggle here was the character work, which I just wasn’t a fan of. At no point did I feel invested in the characters and I found the two male POVs to be nearly indistinguishable from each other. In my opinion, the characterisation was rather weak and I ended up just wanting more from these characters. More personality, more introspection, more emotion… more of everything, really. There was some interesting character-development and a bit of a role-reversal situation with Deryn and Heth, but we didn’t really dig into that enough for me to really enjoy it. Also, supposedly traumatic events didn’t seem to have a lasting emotional impact on these characters at all, which really hindered my own emotional investment.
Luckily for me, one of the side characters (who was my favourite character right from chapter 1) finally got her own POV around the halfway mark and that helped some with my enjoyment. Her storyline was much more intriguing to me and I would probably have liked this story a fair bit more if we had gotten more chapters from her perspective.
All that said, I actually didn’t have a bad time with this book at all. It’s somehow just extremely readable, fun and addictive, which makes it super easy to fly through this rather chunky book. The plot is always moving and there are lots of engaging action scenes to keep the tension high. Heck, even the progression fantasy aspects ended up working quite well for me, I was just so gripped by the whole concept of the levelling-up magic system! Oh, and any time you give me a magic school setting, you can guarantee that I will be highly entertained.
In the end, I think this is a fast-paced and fun epic fantasy that will satisfy both the newbies and veterans of the fantasy genre. If you are looking for an immersive and engaging fantasy tome that you can totally get lost in, then The Umbral Storm is a great one to pick up.