RogerBW's Blog

Circle of the Moon, Barbara Hambly 01 October 2014

Sequel to Sisters of the Raven. The new female wizards, and the king their patron, have to cope with dream-communications of suffering from abroad, a possible magical assassin, some new kind of plague that is wiping out villages, and the king's re-coronation ordeal (which was easier to fake back when magic was reliable).

Somehow it's just slightly too many things all at once, especially since several of them are left unresolved at the end. It's true that many of these crises are arising now because of the change in magic, and part of the tension is generated by the need to spread the small number of new magicians across the huge field of things that are going wrong, but I got a distinct feeling of the same problem that hits in many first fantasy novels: there is magic in the world, you've got to help save it, and it's all going to happen tomorrow.

Frankly I found this book a bit of a slog, especially in the first half, though things pick up a bit around the mid-point; there's a great deal of atmospheric doom and gloom, something Hambly's very good at, but it doesn't always make for enjoyable reading. We also see significant factionalisation among the mages, which was probably inevitable but is still depressing. There's lots of blood and grime and soul-eating.

The book's plot rests to a large extent on keeping secrets from the reader, one of them (to do with the nature of the teyn, the non-human slave class) being something I'd really been expecting to be revealed in the first book, while another is hard to work out unless you've cheated by reading the title. The usual problem applies: if the reader works out the answers before the protagonists, the latter seem stupid, or in this case orchestrated, as person A has to be manipulated by the author into seeing thing B before coming to realisation C even though she could have worked it out for herself before that just as the reader had.

It may be cruel to accuse the author of a southern Californian viewpoint because she never once considers the possibility that maybe the middle of a desert isn't really the best place for a huge city. The best available solution is an aqueduct, to steal water from somewhere else. The world's curiously empty; there are mysterious and primitive nomads out in the desert, but very little said about the people with whom the rich merchants of the city actually trade.

Definitely don't read this one before Sisters of the Raven. If you loved that, give this a go, but more in order to re-visit the characters than for the compelling story.

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