SPFBO 8 Finalist Review: The Umbral Storm by Alec Hutson

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Hey guys, so Kristen may or may not be reading this one, I will update you all with our ‘final score’ because for now it’s just my score.

So I think this one will have broad appeal to anyone who enjoys classic epic fantasy with a lot of magic and a more structured magic system. So, people who are fans of Brent Weeks and Brandon Sanderson in particular would likely enjoy this one. It starts off with our two main POVs at odds with each other and their stories become intertwined and basically stay that way through the whole story. \

When it starts off you’re absolutely not supposed to like Heth. He’s the son of the slave owner and he’s been used to a life of luxury living in large houses wiht servants who revere the family and even have other species as bonded body guards. His father has these two lizard-people who have been bonded to him from hatching, some sort of special body guard kind of thing. So, he’s used to people bowing and scraping to him and he acts just how you think someone growing up like that would act, selfish, arrogant, cruel, and just horrible.

Derryn is an indentured servant, and I think the only indentured servant in this village of slaves owned by Heth’s father. So, at the start his mother is already dead and has been for a little bit of time. When she was alive she was struggling with mental health issues, would talk to herself, and made it awkward around other people and so keeping employment was difficult, and that’s part of the reason Derryn ended up as an indentured servant since she couldn’t hold down a job. She eventually drowns herself in a lake which leaves Derryn to serve out the rest of his time alone, which wasn’t actually all that much time left at the start.

So, Derryn’s whole job is to get hunt crabs that are in these giant trees in this untamed forest that’s inhabited by a lot of shit that wants to kill you, pretty much your standard jungle but with even more lethal animals. He comes accross this girl who looks like she’s starving and needs help, she begs him for a crab and eventually he hands it over, but another slave sees him and reports him for loss of profits.

Heth is told by his father to whip the shit out of him with a barbed whip, and he does. Derryn is whipped almost to death and shortly thereafter a sharded few shows up to their encampment and kills Heth’s father and takes over the camp which changes the dynamics of everything. Someone who’s referred to as a “sharded few” is someone who can weild magic imbued by the shards they wear. There are all sorts of different kinds but they’re all lethal. He kills Heth’s father without much effort and is seemingly an unstable person. Derryn and some other slaves make plans to make a break for it and risk the woods rather than this unpredictable and unstable sharded warrior. All of this is still at the beginning of the book so not really too much of a spoiler, but I am going to stop there with the plot.

I really liked Derryn, I found his character to be one you could easily root for and get behind. He was relatively average guy who found himself in extraordinary cirucmstances. Heth on the other hand I struggled with. He has this redemption arc and at the start he’s this awful person who whipped Derryn near to death, and on top of that when you read from his POV he’s just the worst. He thinks about betraying the group as the flee the camp even though they didn’t at all have to let him come. It took a long time for his redemption arc to start and so the more I read about him the less I liked him for a long time, which ultimately led to me not fully investing in his redemption. It was realistic not to have him totally change his tune so quickly, but I was hating him for so much page time I never fully came around to liking him.

This is a clear second world high fantasy book with lots of really neat aspects to the world building. As I mentioned earlier this will be for people who enjoy a more structured magic system with a bit more rules and regulations to them than other things. This also feels a bit progressive, like a progressive fantasy kind of deal like Andrew Rowe and Will Wight books. I’m not sure if it’s a strict progressive fantasy but it has that feel to it. The shards can be split into multiple categories that all do different things, so you’ve got the blood shards, wind shards, shadow shards and soul shards etc., (there are many but these are the ones I remember off the top of my head). You have to be a special kind of person to be able to use them in the first place so there’s a definite social divide when it comes to magic wielding. My one gripe with the world building is that a lot of it came via infodumps. I didn’t take off as much as I sometimes do since despite it being character to character dialogue exposition, it at least made sense in context.

Since I was disliking half the chapters (Heth’s POV) for most of his character arc that really slowed the pacing down for me. That’s going to vary person by person depending on if you’re into his arc or not. However, there’s a bit of a lull for me in the middle of the book because of all the traveling from place to place and the training sessions that come into play during the middle. I started to feel the length of this book (~650-700 pages). Even though it lagged a bit in the middle it did pick back up and I enjoyed the ending.

Overall I would recommend this book and I think it has a lot of appeal. I wasn’t quite in the mood for some of the aspects of this book and so that hampered my personal enjoyment just a touch — but don’t let that color your opinion. If this sounds good to you I really recommend you pick it up!


  • Plot: 11/15
  • Characters: 12/15
  • World Building: 13/15
  • Writing: 13/15
  • Pacing: 10/15
  • Origiality: 12/15
  • Enjoyment: 7/10

Final Score: 78/100