Fiction - Horror
495 Pages
Reviewed on 12/30/2020
Buy on Amazon

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    Book Review

Reviewed by Romuald Dzemo for Readers' Favorite

Umbra by Yana Barbelo is an imaginative story filled with religious symbolism. The story begins with the myth of creation, only this time, it isn’t the Word that is primordial, but the darkness. Ohno Hoia bears a collection of seeds and her shadow that follows her everywhere. She barely remembers her origins and while she wants freedom, she is linked to the shadow day after day, for better or worse. She wants to break away from the shadow, but she can’t. Her beautiful garden in present-day California is delightful to behold, but darkness invades her soul and she knows not where it came from. What happens when she decides to follow the shadow to its source? Will she find freedom and light or imprisonment?

Dark fantasy at its best, Umbra is a story that is symbolic, fertile in the interpretations it allows readers. At the heart of it all, there is the tale of motherhood, of the darkness that gave birth to light, and the illuminating paradox of life: She who bears the seed of light is overshadowed by darkness. I loved how the author takes the biblical analogy of creation and infuses a twist into it; the story comes out beautifully with lessons about light and darkness, birth and the garden, and a woman’s search for the light that she possesses. This is a spellbinding story that had me enthralled and completely pulled in. This is a story for readers who are seekers. It is inspiring and features a protagonist that wins both the sympathy of readers and their admiration. The style is evocative and spellbinding.

Vincent Dublado

Umbra by Yana Barbelo is a surreal horror novel rife with metaphors and imagery. It begins with a journey to the Land of the Free. Ohno Hoia, who introduces herself as a sailor in the beginning, is the custodian of a mysterious collection of seeds that she guards with her life: “They are the seeds of things unseen, unheard of, or long forgotten; they are the seeds of rhapsody, of rapture, and of paradise.” Aside from the seeds, she guards a soul constantly tormented by her shadow that is not of this world. With no memory of her own identity and the passing of time, she arrives on the shores of California like a pilgrim making a new start. In her new world, she plants and cultivates a garden that grows and propagates at an improbable speed, and it is known as the Jewel of Gaia. As the garden generously gives, the common folk selfishly take. At the same time, Ohno’s shadow grows in strength and threatens to destroy everything she values.

A term has emerged to describe a study in literature that pertains to the sense of the fantastic, to distinguish the primary universe created by God and the secondary universes created by man: “Umbra” exemplifies what is heterocosmic fiction. Yana Barbelo presents enticing ideas and epiphanies that offer delights inspired by a mythological theme. She has also created an enigmatic character in Ohno Hoia, who weaves a compulsive spell over readers by the power that she wields - a gift and a curse at the same time. With its taut pacing and engaging narrative, Umbra by Yana Barbelo reads like a cross between Clive Barker and Haruki Murakami and merits a wider audience for this novel.

Gobi Jane

Umbra by Yana Barbelo fascinated me and I loved the biblical shades. Readers are introduced to an enigmatic character, Ohno Hoia, a woman who is entrusted with a mysterious collection of seeds that she has to protect, but she is also haunted by a shadow that won’t leave her alone. She arrives in modern-day California and plants one of the most exquisite gardens the world has ever known. The world is astounded at the beauty of her garden. But she is distressed and driven to near madness by the shadow. She decides to face this ageless nemesis and find out the truth, so she follows the shadow. Can it lead her to uncover her real identity? Who is she and what is this dark shadow that won’t let her be?

Umbra is a mesmerizing story and a very symbolic one. I was pulled in from the opening pages where the author narrates a myth of the beginning of creation. It sounded biblical: “In the beginning was the Darkness: formless, empty, and alone.” Umbra is depicted as the primary force, the energy from which all things took form. The role of the woman who bid the Darkness to retreat and to return to rest behind her eyes means she carries the burden of the seeds, the burden of creation — and quite literally so! The creative genius of this novel is fascinating and I loved the part that Darkness plays in the narrative. The protagonist is not the usual day-to-day character confronted with a conundrum, but an enigmatic, symbolic character who reflects the story of humanity. It is hard to quality Yana Barbelo’s writing and the eloquence of her voice. This is a unique tale that inspires and ask important questions about life, light, and where we come from.

Ruffina Oserio

Any reader who loves dark fantasy will be absorbed by Umbra by Yana Barbelo, a tale that is mythical in nature, multilayered, and filled with symbolism. I was pulled in by the beginning that speaks of the primordial darkness from which everything sprang into being, but the darkness needed to rest after creating the light in “the woman,” the bearer of the seeds. I read the myth several times and savored its beauty and spiritual significance. This is what opens the story, just like the narrative in biblical literature.

Meet Ohno Hoia, a woman who guards the mysterious seeds. She is a lonely soul tormented by the shadow that stalks her. She knows she has to protect the seeds. She doesn’t know about her origins, but she is determined to protect the seeds. So, when she arrives in California, she decides to plant a garden and it blossoms into something far beautiful than any human eye has seen. But the dark shadow doesn’t leave her. Always beckoning on her, pulling her, following her everywhere. Unable to bear its presence, she finds the courage to follow the shadow. It is the only way of knowing who she is. Will she find her freedom at the end of the path or be swallowed by the darkness?

I never read anything so beautiful and unnerving at the same time. Yana Barbelo crafts a tale that is imaginative yet intriguing, delighting readers and frightening them at the same time. The use of paradox is strong and I particularly loved how the darkness gives birth and shields the light. While Umbra is an imaginary tale, it has tons of lessons for readers and one of them is that from the darkness of our soul flows the light of our freedom. The theme of fertility is written in unusual symbolism and as I read this novel I pondered on the mystery of womanhood and fertility. The writing is incomparable, filled with wonderful imagery and descriptions. The protagonist stirred feelings in me, and I adored the way she is written. You need to read this story to discover its beauty.

K.C. Finn

Umbra is a work of fiction in the horror, dark fantasy, and suspense sub-genres, and was penned by author Yana Barbelo. Written for adult reading audiences, the work does contain the use of explicit language, scenes of a sexual nature, and some imagery that readers may find disturbing. The central protagonist of this truly chilling tale is Ohno Hoia, who finds herself constantly plagued by her lack of memory and the crippling sense that she is a darkness and a terrible mistake. Driven by her duty to guard the mysterious seeds she conceals, Ohno arrives in present-day California to plant them. But when her garden grows, so does the power of the shadow that torments her, and there are still more demons to come.

Author Yana Barbelo has created a chilling and deeply psychological horror work that forces us all to face the deepest fears of our souls as we journey alongside Ohno in her voyage of discovery. One of the things which I particularly enjoyed about the work was its commitment to imagery and symbolism, taking the idea of gardens, growth, shadows, and surrender and developing them beyond metaphor into something that really takes root in readers’ hearts. Ohno is a sympathetic and well-developed unreliable protagonist, which changes our relationship with her as the book develops and makes for some very exciting twists and turns as the plot moves along. Overall, I would highly recommend Umbra to fans of cerebral horror with plenty of beautifully crafted imagery and poignant, thought-provoking ideas.