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If It's Tuesday,
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Sisters of the Raven by Barbara Hambly
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Sisters of the Raven by Barbara Hambly
Warner Books Paperback: ISBN 0446677043
Review by EJ McClure
368 pages List price $13.95 Buy this book at Amazon
In Sisters of the Raven Barbara Hambly once again proves herself adept at world-building, and equally skilled at weaving an intricate plot that will keep you turning pages long after bedtime.
The Yellow City has long depended on the magic of the Sun Mages to bring the annual rains, but for the past ten years the magic has been failing. One after another the most powerful wizards of the realm have lost the ability to summon light, weave illusions, speak across time and space to mages in distant worlds. Now draught and barbarian nomads threaten the dwindling fringe of arable land on the border of the Lake of the Sun.
Young King Oryn believes that building an aqueduct to bring water from the Koshlar Oasis, two hundred miles away, is the best hope his people have of surviving the impending catastrophe. His struggle to build support for this monumental undertaking is hampered by the fact most of his court views him as a fat fop, a dilettante, unworthy inheritor of the mantle of power he assumed when his father was murdered. His only sure allies are his beloved Summer Concubine and old Lord Soth, Court Mage for twenty years -- until he lost his power.
It was the Summer Concubine who revealed to Oryn the embarrassing truth: men may have lost their magic, but there are women in the city who are now able to cure illness, cast curses, and charm away rats and mosquitoes. Working patiently in secret, Summer Concubine has drawn these women together in the Sisterhood of the Raven. She hopes that by sharing their experiences they will be able to understand what is happening to them, and their land.
But someone is killing the Sisters one by one. Raeshaldis, the first woman admitted to the Colleges of the Mages of the Sun, walks into an ambush late at night and barely escapes the attack. At first, she thinks her assailant is one of her fellow novices; they have hazed her mercilessly since she first walked through the Citadel gates. Then she realizes that her assailant is a master wizard. After her narrow escape she finds herself allied with the Summer Concubine in a desperate race against time to find the killer before he strikes again.
Oryn's race against time is for higher stakes. He has realized that now that the wizard's spells are ineffective, there is nothing to keep the teyn slaves from fleeing their compounds, or rising in revolt against the masters who have ordered their lives for fifteen hundred years. Without their patient labor in the fields and on the monumental aqueduct, the whole kingdom will be in jeopardy. As if this weren't trouble enough, the young king also has to contend with riots in the city, sabotage, treason, and the sudden rise of a powerful new cult dedicated to the worship of Iron-girdled Nebekht.
None of which matters a fig to Foxfire Girl, for she is in love with the handsome guardsman Iorradus. She uses all the wiles she has learned in her apprenticeship at the House of the Six Willows to catch his fancy, but is foiled by the cunning and conceited Honeysuckle Lady. Possessed by the cold, perfect fury of a thwarted fourteen-year-old, Foxfire Girl puts her newly discovered magic to use with devastating consequences.
The clues needed to piece together this puzzle of murder and magic are cleverly woven into the richly-detailed background. Even under the pressure of fast-paced and intricate plotting, Hambly eschews stereotypes in favor of flesh-and-blood heroes and deliciously evil villains. Her female characters are boldly drawn, yet utterly believable in the context of their world. If I could work magic, I'd click my heels together three times and wish for a sequel in time for Christmas.