My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I read this for the book bingo’s bottom of the to be read pile. I realized, digging around on my shelves that I’ve literally been carrying this book around since 1985 and never reading it. I have no idea why not. I love Barbara Hambly. Though I get the idea I might have started a couple times and couldn’t get into it.
It is a bit slow to start. Sun Wolf and Star Hawk are mercenaries, he the captain and she his second in command. Sheera of Mandrigyn has come to recruit him to help her. Her city has been subjugated by the deathless wizard, Altiokis, and all the men enslaved in his mines or dead. Nothing but his toadeaters and the very young are left. Mandrigyn has a strict misogynistic lifestyle. Women stay home and only go out veiled and with chaperones. Sun Wolf has no intentions of getting involved with magic so Sheera and her women drug him with the deadly anzid and haul him off. He has a choice, train the women to fight or they let the poison kill him.
Star Hawk and Fawn, Sun Wolf’s slave girl lover take off after him (mostly because Star Hawk is in love with him and she has never broken her warrior woman persona to tell him so). In the first half of the book, hers is the less frequent but more interesting point of view. Because Sun Wolf’s point of view is that of a man training a bunch of women who have no clue other than Denga Rey, a gladiator woman. Know what’s interesting about watching people getting trained to fight? Nothing.
If I had read this in the 1980s I would have been too young to really register the misogyny represented here. Sun Wolf (I never really do warm up to him) takes on slave girls, seeing it as rescuing them from brutal masters since he is nice to them and admits to things happening when he’s sacking a city (I.E. he’s down with the pillaging and raping, at least in the past.) However he has worked with women warriors but he’s not pleased with Sheera’s group and why would he be? But he doesn’t leave them nor does he fail them. However, his time with them and the drug they gave him leave him changed forever.
Star Hawk is far more interesting and I think she and the whole misogyny here are representative of the times. Think about when this was written. Maybe I’m doing what I always hated in lit classes, looking for symbolize but this was written soon after it was obvious ERA would never happen. I was the only girl in my chemistry class and only one of three in my biology class. My med school class was less than 25% women. But we pressed forward and things are marginally better. That is what we see in this book. Some women in other countries have more rights. At the end, the women of Mandrigyn aren’t just going to go back to their veils and their hearths. In many ways this is about combating gender roles dressed up as fantasy. If I wanted to really stretch the symbolism search, do I really think that the town name is an accident? Man –dri-gyn man vs woman.
There are a lot of little hints laid out in this that develop fully as we go, like Sun Wolf being able to see demons or just how loyal Star Hawk is. The novel really picks up after the mid-way point. I do, however, think the ending was a tad too quick and easy. On the other hand, I’m so bored with drawn out battle scenes that this was preferable. Unfortunately, it is the first book in a series and I’m not sure I have the next book anywhere around and don’t like my chances of finding it. That said, if you haven’t read anything by Ms Hambly, I highly recommend her work.
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