Barbara Hambly,
Sisters of the Raven
(Warner Aspect, 2002)

Barbara Hambly transports the reader to a fantasy world in crisis in Sisters of the Raven.

Magic is dying in the region of the seven lakes. Long held as a badge of honor among men, of whom only a select handful are born with the talent, magic is also crucial to the survival of the land. Every year, the mages of the Citadel sing the rain from the sky and replenish the water supply. As magic ebbs from their grasp, the mages struggle to retain some shred of their powers or, failing that, attempt to conceal their loss.

At the same time, some women in this patriarchal and stratified social system discover that they can work magic. Untrained, they use their power for lighting fires and healing sick children, for the most part. One young woman, Raeshaldis, has actually entered the Citadel of the Sun Mages as a student, where she undergoes constant hazing. Other women are abused by their husbands or fathers or forced to use their magic on competitors. At the same time, their magic is denied publicly.

One woman, the Summer Concubine, consort of the king, draws the women into a sisterhood. They are the Sisters of the Raven, named in honor of the raven, the female of which is the only female bird capable of magic in their theology and mythology.

Something or someone, however, is killing these women, and Raeshaldis and the Summer Concubine mean to find out who it is. Raeshaldis is nearly a victim herself, and she is the only one trained enough to use her magic to gather clues.

Hambly deftly spins her mystery against a political backdrop of plots, conspiracies, rivalries and power grabs. The king, Oryn, is a reluctant monarch, but one who is effective and intelligent; his dandified and soft-seeming appearance belies his political acumen. The mystery is very well developed, and Hambly provides enough clues for the observant reader to figure it out. Her writing is lushly descriptive, evoking crystal clear images, but the description does not overwhelm the tightly crafted plot.

She creates a very structured society that subjugates women to the wills of their fathers and husbands. At the heart of the novel are societal changes that occur when the balance of power shifts. In this case, the possession of magic is the center of power, and the loss of control is represented in the drought and its impact on the city. Hambly interlocks the elements of her tale by telling it through the perspective s of different characters.

Thanks to this treatment, this complex novel has a lot of heart, and it further confirms Hambly's stature as an established master of graceful, powerful storytelling.

- Rambles
written by Donna Scanlon
published 23 November 2002

Buy it from