Sisters of the Raven by Barbara Hambly
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I have always enjoyed Barbara Hambly's writing. She creates interesting characters and settings, and the stories are well done. Sisters of the Raven is no exception.
The story revolves around a society loosely based on desert societies. The men here have always possessed magic and the mages are held in high regard, particularly since they are the ones who call the life-giving rains every year. But for some reason, the men are losing their magic. The mages have a harder and harder time every year calling the rains, and as this story opens, it seems that this year, they may not be able to bring the rain at all. Meanwhile, some women are beginning to show the ability to do magic. One of these has been accepted as a student with the Sun Mages. Another is the favorite concubine and trusted advisor of the king. As tensions both political and personal rise with every day the rains are delayed, these two women, along with a few others, must not only solve the mystery of the change in magic, but also try to discover who has been killing the woman mages.
I enjoyed the book. The main characters are interesting and well-drawn. The Summer Concubine is a strong, intelligent woman, who knows that she must act her part, and does without losing her dignity or identity. The king, Oryn, comes across at first as a bit of a dandy, and to some extent he is, but part of that is act, as well. He is shrewd and intelligent, and at times uses his love of fine clothes, jewels, and food as a blind. He and the Summer Concubine have a strong relationship, based on true affection and respect for each other's strengths. The apprentice mage, Raesheldis, is just rebellious enough, with a quick wit and courage. Secondary characters, while not as completely rounded as the main ones, are still fleshed out and believable.
The world of the story is well drawn. The desert setting is harsh, with wandering nomad tribes to cause trouble. The main part of the story takes place in the Yellow City, essentially the capital of Oryn's kingdom, and the area surrounding the Five Lakes where most of the civilization lives. There is enough detail to bring the setting to life, without interfering with the story or becoming boring.
The action is not slow, but doesn't have a lot of frantic pacing. There are only one or two battles, with most of the fighting relegated to street riots as the drought continues. The story moves along well, and is very character driven.
It was an easy book to read, and I look forward to reading the second story set in this world.
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