Recent reading: Bood Maidens and Magistrates of Hell

You know what I found interesting about these two books? They are both just about as good as the first two — I think. (It’s been a while since I first read Those Who Hunt the Night.

It seems to me that sometimes Barbara Hambly isn’t quite so consistent through a whole series. For some reason three of the books of the Free Man of Color mystery series just don’t sing or me. Well, I know why I didn’t much care for one of them: the latest, Ran Away. I didn’t appreciate the flashback-heavy structure of the story, and the Muslims-can-be-nice theme seemed heavy-handed. But I wasn’t too keen on the Mexican one, Days of the Dead, but in that case I never did figure out why. And I’m sure there was another I wasn’t too keen on, but I don’t remember which one it was. Despite all this, let me just mention that this is still my favorite murder mystery series of all time. I will be right there for the one due out in May — Good Man Friday. It’s going to feature Henry Viellard, Minou’s protector, if you remember, and Henry’s new wife Chloe, whom I loved from the previous book that introduced her.

And with regards to Hambly’s fantasy, Elaine T was quite right in her earlier comment re: the sequels of Dragonsbane. They weren’t exactly dreadful . . . not exactly. But the characters were fairly unrecognizable compared to the first book. And the plot got pretty baroque, especially with that little jaunt to a modern world, do you remember that? I’ve actually tried to block it, myself.

And Mother of Winter, a sequel to the Darwath series, was just dreadful, imo.

Let me just re-emphasize that I love Hambly, generally.

For one thing, Those Who Hunt The Night is SO GOOD. James Asher is a great male protagonist, his wife Lydia is a wonderful female protagonist, Simon Ysidro is fabulous as a vampire who is definitely not the least bit sparkly. It’s a wonderful suspense-filled fast-paced story with excellent writing, and it just brings turn-of-the-century London absolutely to life. And the second book, which till last week I thought was it for the series — Traveling With the Dead — honestly, it’s just as good. I just re-read it. Wonderful how Hambly handles Ernchester and his wife, Anthea. All these sub-plots echoing and reinforcing each other, very impressive.

And now with Blood Maidens and Magistrates of Hell. So glad to find out about these. We sure are getting a world tour, aren’t we? Vienna and Constantinople in the second book, St. Petersburg in the third — plus a whirlwind tour of half Eastern Europe, it seemed like — and then CHINA in the fourth? I can hardly imagine how much research Hambly had to put into these books. The setting and description is wonderful, seriously. Each one drew me in effortlessly and kept me turning the pages right till the end. Of course I knew she wasn’t going to do anything quite so horrible to Ysidro in the fourth book, but whew, glad I was right about that.

I do look forward to re-reading Magistrates next year or sometime. Did Hambly cheat with that one character who turned out to be the Master of Peking? I’m sure she didn’t. I really want to re-read the book and appreciate how she handles that. I don’t know that I actually believed in the Others, but then they were totally crucial to the plot, so I can tolerate the aspects of them I don’t believe in. Although someday I wouldn’t mind asking Hambly what in blazes she thinks ten million rats are LIVING ON down in that mine. Come on.

But okay, okay, moving on, did I mention I loved the Chinese setting?

Seriously, Hambly’s vampire novels leave nearly all of the current fad vampires in the dust. Even if you think you’re tired of vampires, if you love historicals, you owe it to yourself to try these.

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12 thoughts on “Recent reading: Bood Maidens and Magistrates of Hell”

  1. I’m so glad you enjoyed them Rachel. I was afraid that with such a long gap between books two and three, the recent books wouldn’t live up to my memories of the early ones. I was delighted to discover that they carried the story on in a near-seamless fashion. Do you think that the different exotic settings are helping to keep the series fresh? I guess we can thank the current vampire fad for the publication of BLOOD MAIDENS and MAGISTRATES OF HELL. Kudos to Severn House for giving Barbara a contract when the bigger publishing houses seem to have lost faith in her fantasy work.

  2. Okay, I feel a little relief now for not being able to make it through the sequel to Dragonsbane. I tried so hard! But I just wasn’t feeling it. On the other hand, I LOVED Sisters of the Raven. I still haven’t picked up Those Who Hunt the Night–might have to get it in ebook form, since my library doesn’t have it.

  3. SISTERS OF THE RAVEN and CIRCLE OF THE MOON are indeed excellent. That’s why it’s so frustrating that Barbara hasn’t had a fantasy novel published since then!

  4. I’ll never understand why her big publishers dropped her. That is, I’m sure it was some impersonal issue re sales and so forth, but I just don’t see how her sales could have fallen off that much, since she’s (usually) a wonderful writer. I’ve heard that one or two dud books can kill your chances of a subsequent contract; maybe she had those deadly one or two — but how can she not have plenty of die-hard fans like me who will continually give her next book the benefit of the doubt.?

    Cheryl: I know! I went back and re-read the second book and then went on with three and four, and it was just one big swoooosh right through to the end.

    Mary Beth: yeah, no, those sequels were not Hambly’s brightest moment. I wonder if she was going through something awful in her personal life that led to such brutal stories? As far as I’m concerned, Dragonsbane is a standalone.

  5. I think it is both the variations in setting and the actual antagonists being very different in each book. While there’s a bit of sameness – Asher is always worried about the same thing, political forces discovering vampires and using them against enemies – when we find out what is really going on it isn’t that. I do get a bit tired of his worry.

    I hadn’t like the second one very much when it first came out. I kept wondering why, if vampires hated travel, the Farrens had been in Constantinople those years ago, etc. Plausibility arguments in my head from what we’d heard before, or even during that book. When I reread it a year ago or so, after running across BLOOD MAIDENS and enjoying it, I could keep the arguments down and enjoy the story. I still like THOSE WHO HUNT best, though.

    I’m halfway through MAGISTRATES and enjoying it. I’m finding it hard to sit down and read it sequentially, instead I keep jumping around, so I’ve actually read more than halfway.

    Back when the sequels to DRAGONSBANE were coming out, I remember hearing she was going through a bad time in her life, ill health and divorce, IIRC. A bit like Mary Gentle writing GRUNTS while in great pain from an auto accident. That one makes heros of Tolkien’s orcs. The most quoted line from it, as I recall is: Pass me another elf, this one’s split. Ignoring that book, I haven’t been able to read anything she’s written for years, although she keeps writing books that sound like I ought to like them. Like her latest, BLACK OPERA.

    I tried Hambly’s RAVEN, but bounced off due to it not catching my interest, and also somehow giving the impression of the writer doing some ax-grinding. Mostly , though, it didn’t hold me, which might have been a Hambly first.

  6. A friend of mine thought that Jenny Waynest and her son Ian’s struggle to get over demon possession read like a battle to overcome heroin addiction. It certainly made for harrowing reading.

    I remember that quote from GRUNTS. That scene alone put me off Mary Gentle’s books for life.

  7. Finished MAGISTRATES and enjoyed it very much. It’s the only vampire series I follow.
    No, I don’t think she cheats with that one character, she’s very subtle with him.

    I found myself channeling memories of a scientist/adventurer’s books while I read – he also spent time in China, Roy Chapman Andrews. Something like “The dust reached as far south as Shanghai and its yellow blanket hovered over the sea sixty five miles beyond the coast. It came from a land parched by fourteen well-nigh rainless months …. we were told that no good could come from a summer which began with such a dusty spring. It was the same dear old hysterical Peking! We are rather a small community here, and we must have excitement. So with dust, war, and smallpox we felt that the summer was beginning rather well.

    The dust storm, and the way the Legation women are described as really getting into everything caused that sort of thing to start running through the back of my mind. Hambly caught it, although her novel writing is very different from the popular memoir writing style.

  8. Glad you liked MAGISTRATES! That Andrews book sounds intriguing. Quite a line, that “… we felt the summer was beginning rather well” one. I don’t usually read memoir, just because life is short and I have so many books already, but I might look up that one. Especially since Mom sometimes likes memoir.

    I do follow Patricia Briggs’ Mercy Thompson series — do you count that as a vampire series, since there ARE vampires, even though the werewolves are the primary focus? And I like Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels series almost as much, and hey, those vampires are literally mindless tools, so do they count?

    Other than those, all the paranormals do tend to blur together a bit for me. I mean, where does one even start when every single cover looks exactly the same? Hambly’s books are certainly very different — vampires being seductive without being sexy, as it were. And the two (married, human) protagonists being in love with each other, who ever heard of that, right? So they really are vampire stories, but they really are not paranormals. So people who love paranormal romance may hate them, I don’t know, but people who love setting and character and don’t care for paranormal romances are likely to love them. Yet they’d never pick it up, probably, because of the vampires.

    I bet if Hambly offered THOSE WHO HUNT THE NIGHT around today, she wouldn’t be able to sell it regardless of any kind of sales record. I don’t think publishers would know how to place it to sell, at the moment. Kind of an odd thought, since it’s such an great story.

  9. Andrews is more in the Thor Heyerdahl (sp?) category than straight memoir, he mostly wrote about expeditions he was on or led. That quote was from the one about the Central Asiatic Expeditions of the 1920s…. [oh crap gutenberg doesn’t have it….runs downstairs] ON THE TRAIL OF ANCIENT MAN. Hey, I got it mostly right!

    The discussion about cars in MAGISTRATES also brought it to mind because Andrews used cars, when everyone said it couldn’t be done. since I’ve got it open…. “when it was announced that we intended to explore the central and western Gobi Desert with five cars, … and had planned a three thousand mile journey, …said i was a a fool. … The success of the motor transport is shown by the fact that we used the same Dodge Brow. cars .. for two successive expeditions.” And the roads were mostly imaginary. Good cars. And the line from Lydia about Chinese ladies supposedly being submissive: “Angry men are bad enough… but when a Chinese lady works herself into a frenzy, every one hunts cover. This particular old lady was so enraged that she seated herself squarely in the hole that the palaeontologist had dug and refused to move. ” The palaeontologist tries holding a parasol over her. She screams louder. :-) It takes bringing out a camera to get her to move. Little anecdotes bringing things to life. B&W photos, too.

    Look up his friend sometime, Carl Akeley, inventor of shotcrete, modern taxidermy and national parks, and a major survivor, having killed a leopard with his bare hands. That’s the sort of person a fiction writer might have trouble making plausible. Especially given the lack of antibiotics in his active time.

    I’ve read and liked some Patricia Briggs, and we own the Mercy Thompsons because my husband reads them. I haven’t tried them. I did try the Alpha & Omega series, when she started that (new series, no backlog to catch up with), and wasn’t grabbed. But the Mercy Thompsons are on my list to try someday.

    Ever read GRR Martin’s FEVRE DREAM? I remember it as a non-standard vampire book, as well as one his few that I liked enough to finish. Set on a Mississippi river boat in (IIRC) the pre-Civil War days.

  10. My mother would definitely go for the Andrews book. I’m going to zip over to Amazon and pick it up for her before I forget.

    Killed a leopard with his bare hands? I wonder if that was because he had no choice or because he was crazy? The image makes me think of Charles Waterton, who WAS crazy — among other things, he deliberately wrestled a cayman bare-handed because he wanted the skin and didn’t want the hide marred by a bullet — but he also invented the notion of wildlife sanctuaries and debunked stupid myths about, oh, goatsuckers sucking milk from goats and whatever.

    I suspect you’ll like the Mercy Thompson series better than the Alpha & Omega series. I like both, but I don’t think I would have liked the latter as well if I hadn’t started with the former.

    I haven’t read anything by GRR Martin but the Song of Earth and Fire series — and not the latest. I decided to wait till the whole thing is complete, if ever, because I’m tired of having to re-read earlier books before I can read the most recent. FEVRE DREAM sounds good — I don’t think I knew he’d ever done a historical vampire novel.

    Have you read McKinley’s SUNSHINE? That’s another great vampire story.

  11. I liked GAME OF THRONES, but when I started vol 2, I got some way in and realized I kept putting it down and reading something else instead. i didn’t like spending time with any of the characters, although the world and setup and all were interesting. The only other work of his I really took to was ARMEGEDON RAG, and I suspect I wouldnt’ like it now. At the time, it worked with Shiner’s GLIMPSES to help me make sense of the way people are about 60s music. Having been born a bookworm, I missed it when I lived through it. :-)

    I have read SUNSHINE, it was the last McKinley I really liked.

    Akeley had to: rifle empty, and leopard charging. THAT made it onto gutenberg Scroll down to “I’d shot a warthog” Or for a more entertaining version look at (which I’m going to have to remember for when the local teen needs an example of how one presents events makes a huge difference.)

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