MASTER OF UMBRA
GENRE: Paranormal, mythology, romance, epic
Deliah is in grave danger, running for her life from a man who needs her dead, when serendipity plants her in the path of the Master of Umbra.
Inducted into the mysterious Eagle clan of the Scottish highlands, Deliah is torn between her fate and destiny when kin clash for her affections. Falling for the scandalous villain who heads the Berserkers of the Hebrides, her fragile hope is snuffed out early by revelation and impending war.
The only mantra she can cling to is the one uttered in heartfelt promise; that love comes back.
Because that’s what love does.
The legends, the mythos, the shockingly real imagining of a world where Frost Giants exist, just at the edges of consciousness, continues full throttle in book two of The Valhalla Series.
Master of Umbra takes place over the same time/space as Master of Miasma, filling in what’s only hinted at in book one. Take everything I said about that book (see review below) and multiply it by two.
The fledging Eagle is Deliah, lost to ‘the system’ as a child, abandoned, abused, tortured, she seeks refuge in the Highlands, she and her adorable cat, Arabella. She has no clue who or what she is until Ewan, head of the Eagle clan (and oh so much more), finds her and restores her to her family.
As with book one, this is a tale of beginnings, of self-discovery; however, unlike Emma, this heroine does have a clue even though what she needs to learn—and learn quickly—is tempered by threats of war—facing down former allies while the real threat spins betrayal, manipulation and deceit. It is also a tale of romance, of fate and choices, of denial and selfless acquiescence to the common good, including acceding to a fate that impacts Ewan’s best friend’s happiness at his own expense.
The Norse legends, the skillful intertwining of that ancient language and mythos, are intermixed with a modernity that under a less adept hand might seem out-of-place, but under Poppet’s fine command weaves a story that is compelling and … quite frankly, cinematic in its treatment.
It is also laugh-out-loud, fall out of your chair funny, with lines that I shall return to savor over and over (and I probably will never be able to think about how cowboys walk without a smirk ever again). The repartee between Ewan and Deliah is seductive, naughty, bawdy and so filled with double-entredres, I guarantee you will be rolling on the floor. Then there’s the boys-will-be-boys locker room vibe as the male clan members wave testosterone and bonhomie with elan.
Quite simply: the dialogue is delish.
As the two books merge, as Raven and Eagle begin to explore common ground and to divine the true threat, Loki ups the ante, leaving Ewan to take a daring chance … and leaving the reader with an uh-oh cliff-hanger.
I read this in one go, breathless, gobbling up the exquisite language, the humor, the danger, the unfolding of the myth and legends. You don’t necessarily need to read book one first (but it would flesh it out a little and enhance your enjoyment of the over-arching epic nature to this series).
As always, for a tale well-written, a legend brought to life, for pulse-pounding sensuality and flat out pure enjoyment: FIVE STARS!
MASTER OF MIASMA
Falling in love with a shadow sounds impossible, taken home to live with myths is even more insane, yet on Yule’s night this is exactly what befalls Emma. Nothing in this modern world could prepare her for this new reality, the mark of Valhalla, or the depths of her connection to the mysterious Macala.
Destiny dances a wicked tango, locked to her master of miasma nothing makes Emma want him more than the imposed separation. He’s enigmatic, a paradox, and everything she’s ever needed. Disclosure doesn’t sever their bond, it simply forges them closer. Walking the paths of Norse gods, Emma rises to the call of her heart.
Her name is Emma, but it’s not her name you’ll remember because from the opening lines it’s like being released from a sensory deprivation chamber and your senses will reel from an onslaught of images, visions, imaginings so visceral they detonate behind your eyes.
He ‘knots his vice’ into her veins, the stranger across the room who is destiny and violation and mist: he is the Frost moon, he says, “I’m Macala,” and we think of course you are because Goth girls draw the night and he is the miasma, the darkness.
And, oh my dear sweet Auntie Mae, you will wear Emma’s skin, first as the slick slip of satin over fragile flesh, or as saw-toothed blades ratcheting, clicking, a half-phase out of sequence in the improbability of denial because Fate has new weight and a champion.
This is a novel of beginnings, of capturing the legends, the mythology of Norse gods, their stories and beliefs lost to time and place, but still a vivid muscle memory for some who can see the truth. The canon of mythology is both diverse and strikingly similar in its broad thematic elements. The author does a masterful job of identifying those links of commonality, of bridging gaps in logic and intuition, of taking our ‘what ifs’ and making them ‘but of course’.
Emma has a destiny and the power of metamorphosis, but she does not go into that goodnight a willing supplicant for a god’s favors. She has the modern equivalent of emotional baggage, an ancient soul, and a path both physical and psychic to traverse and she lacks the luxury of a child’s period of grace to simply become.
And it falls to Macala to be her spirit guide, her mentor, her teacher—a task best handled with alacrity and objectivity because danger looms and his kind, the Ravens, risk falling into a blackness of siege from Loki’s kin. He will offer her trust and truth and that truth will break her until she accepts, but Emma must first choose and choose wisely. And Macala is anything but objective in his feelings for the acolyte he must foster.
Master of Miasma is an origins story, a retelling, a reimagining of ancient myths. Emma is the new looking glass through which we rediscover the Norse gods and their sometimes willful self-indulgence and the corruption of the spiritual. That once and future occult devices devolved over time and circumstance into frivolous games whose meanings have faded but the urge to engage remains genetically encoded. It is a reminder of who we were and what we could become.
For me, all the best stories are journeys of becoming, travelogues of the mind and soul, and to that end Poppet has broad-stroked a canvas of staggering proportions, populated with larger-than-life characters and cosmos-ending consequences, where choices are sometimes no choice at all. And the matter of free will and the power of the sacred feminine eternally battle with the arrogance of male posturing and protectiveness.
The Master of Miasma touches on so many sacred and spiritual themes that it’s worth a reread or two or three to fully appreciate how the author has woven this particular tapestry, using language as violent as a cudgel and as exquisitely refined as a surgeon’s scalpel.
The story leaves us on a precipice: Emma was as ill-formed clay, unfired and untested and poised to embark on an epic adventure. Perhaps to save the world, perhaps to rebuild tears in the fabric of light, perhaps to learn the costs of destiny and the vagaries of a genetic lottery. With Macala she takes the next steps to embrace both the darkness and the light. With war looming, they seek an intervention, a return to reason, their journey fraught with peril, the outcomes uncertain.
This is a love story, make no mistake, but it is also so much more. Poppet’s work is indeed a box of chocolates, each morsel an explosion of sensory delight. If you love language, if you crave passion, if you adore mental (and other) stimulation, this book continues a very unique tradition of immersive sensuality and a wordsmith at the top of her game.
Bring on book 2. Soon. I am not a patient fan.
Five stars, but of course.