Short works

Books : reviews

Barbara Hambly.
The Iron Princess.
Open Road. 2023

Something is amiss with the world’s magic. Spells don’t work the way they used to—when they work at all. Only the powers of the Crystal Mages remain as they were, powers founded on the use of the mystical element adamis, the harvesting of which has enslaved the peoples of the Twilight Lands.

They need a hero.

At the same time, ravenous beasts have begun to appear, legendary creatures that seem to be proof against any magic. And Clea Stylachos, granddaughter of a great sage of the Twilight people, has reason to fear that the Crystal Mages, instead of seeking to defeat these insanely destructive monsters, are attempting to weaponize them in their quest for power.

Clea’s only hope to save her people is a wizard who retains his power, one who will not betray her, either to the great merchant houses or to the all-entangling web of the Crystal Mages. But that wizard—Ithrazel the Cursed, destroyer of a city and magically imprisoned to suffer undying, unremitting torment—wants nothing to do with saving the world, helping a hero, or unraveling the terrible secret at the heart of the Crystal Mages’ plans.

From the slums and tunnels of the slave-city of Morne, to the watery wilderness of the Twilight Lands, to the halls of her father’s palace and the spell-soaked mysteries of the Crystal Mages’ House of Glass, Clea works to untwist the deadly riddles of magic and monsters—to free her mother’s disenfranchised people from slavery under her father’s conquering forces; to save her mageborn brother from the Crystal Mages’ power; to control a sorcerer legendary for his deed of evil; and to keep her own small band of friends one step ahead of her father’s troops and the Crystal Order's spells.

She is the Iron Princess, and she knows she must prevail or die.

But at what cost to herself?

Barbara Hambly.
Icefalcon's Quest.
HarperCollins. 1998

Barbara Hambly.
Unwin. 1986

rating : 3 : worth reading
review : 9 August 2003

In the mid eighties Hambly wrote this stand-alone novel, then, at the turn of the millennium, followed it up with a further trilogy featuring the same main characters. The last of that trilogy has just come out, and, before I read the new threesome, I decided to reread Dragonsbane.

John slew a dragon years ago, and has become a hero of legend, the last surviving Dragonsbane. So when Morkeleb, the great black dragon, threatens the kingdom, the idealistic Gareth goes to find him, and enlist his help. But he is horrified to find John is not a chivalrous knight: he slew the dragon with an axe, from behind, after his witch-lady Jenny had helped him poison it. Nevertheless, needs must, and so John and Jenny travel back with Gareth to face the new foe. And they discover that the dragon is the least of the perils facing the kingdom.

Like much Hambly, this has great fantasy genre-twisting characters. John and Jenny are reluctant heroes, solid down-to-earth people who would rather be back home, studying farming methods or ancient lore, than saving the kingdom. I'm not sure I like the ending, although it does capture the agonies of having to make a choice between two incompatible desires. Maybe Hambly didn't like the ending either, which is why she wrote a further trilogy? Anyhow, I'm off to read it.

Barbara Hambly.
HarperCollins. 1999

rating : 3 : worth reading
review : 29 August 2003

*** Warning! spoilers for Dragonsbane.

13 years passed in our Real World between the publication of the previous stand-alone book and this beginning of a new trilogy, but only about four years have passed in the world of John Dragonsbane and the witch Jenny. After defeating the Black Dragon, and more importantly, the witch who was subverting the kingdom, they are back in their Northlands, and, as promised, Regent Gareth has sent troops to help restore the rule of law. Suddenly, a dragon is reported, and John must go off to try to kill it. In a flurry of illusion and deceit, they realise something much more serious is going on, with bandits, rogue wizards, enslaved dragons, and demons at large. They must fight again, and maybe even sacrifice their souls, to save the kingdom once more.

This fits the pattern of the first of a trilogy: the inital battle is only barely won, leaving our heroes victorious but greviously harmed, with the foreshadowing of a much more serious conflict to come. Even so, it has a more satisfactory ending than the first stand-alone novel.

Barbara Hambly.
Knight of the Demon Queen.
HarperCollins. 2000

Barbara Hambly.
Del Rey. 2003

Barbara Hambly.
Sisters of the Raven.
Aspect. 2002

Barbara Hambly.
Circle of the Moon.
Warner. 2005

Returning to the wondrous world of Sisters of the Raven, Barbara Hambly presents a suspenseful new stoty of a fledgling group of women who must develop their own magic abilities—before the demons of the past return to kill again…

A magic woman’s work is never done

The laws of magic have changed—no one knows how or why. And with that change, new perils have arisen: deadly water monsters from the depths of the Seven Lakes and a plague of madness in the desert. In the strongholds of human safety, anger and greed bloom as nobles and landchiefs fight for power. Raeshaldis, the only woman formally trained in the old systems of male magic, allies herself with the beautiful concubine Summerchild to found the Circle of the Moon—a motley group of women whose powers are unknown and unreliable. Faced with an attempt by the landchiefs to oust the king and with the efforts of her family to re-enslave her, Raeshaldis must play a deadly guessing game with untested spells and questionable allies, w hile an even more terrible threat awaits…