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Sisters of the Raven    by Barbara Hambly order for
Sisters of the Raven
by Barbara Hambly
Order:  USA  Can
Aspect, 2002 (2002)

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Barbara Hambly is one of my favorite authors across two very different genres. She writes both excellent historical mysteries (her New Orleans Benjamin January series) and a variety of fantasy tales in which she typically stacks the odds heavily against her protagonists, but makes up for it by giving them strong romantic interests.

Sisters of the Raven introduces a new world, in which men, who previously had a monopoly on magic, are fast losing it, at the same time as magical djinni are disappearing. A scattering of women have developed a range of powers from clearing out pests to healing. The setting is the Yellow City, its style hinting of medieval Japan, including its Pearl Women who are reminiscent of geisha but with the addition of martial arts to their training. The general subjugation of women and their veiling reminds us of fundamentalist Moslem societies.

There are some wonderful characters. Oryn, the king, is an overweight dandy who is also sensitive, intelligent and underestimated. He loves the Summer Concubine, a Pearl Woman and his partner in all things, who has gathered to her other women of power as the Sisters of the Raven. One of them, Raeshaldis, is a novice wizard (and the only woman) in the College of the Mages of the Sun. She has been working with them in an attempt to summon rain, desperately needed in a city surrounded by desert.

But women with magic are disappearing, a mysterious master wizard has tried to kill Shaldis, and Ravens dream of sisters screaming for help. If that were not enough, the king's uncle is plotting against him along with the founder of a new and gory religious movement. Also a slave race, the teyn, are discovering the absence of magic that has long been used to force their labour in field and mine. The mystery unfolds alongside treachery and rebellion, leading to a climactic confrontation in a tomb.

Oryn tries to lead his people away from a reliance on magic and to build aqueducts. While helping him, the Summer Concubine also works to empower women and has reservations about her people's treatment of the teyn. In addition to their established romance, the author develops one between Shaldis and a straitlaced young guardsman. It's an entertaining fantasy/mystery in a well-developed world, and I hope to see a sequel.

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