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(Contains Dragonsbane and Dragonshadow)
Barbara Hambly

Buy it? Absolutely.

I've read just about everything Hambly's written, and I'm still not sure how Dragonsbane eluded me for so many years. I know, after all, that I've got a nine out of ten chance of liking whatever she writes (I didn't like the Rainbow books; so sue me). But anyway, I finally picked it up a couple weeks ago and pretty much devoured both it and the sequel, bound in one handy volume by our friends at the Science Fiction Book Club, who are responsible for more of the unread volumes on my shelves than I care to admit.
    Hambly's main characters tend to be unremarkable people caught up by remarkable events, and John Aversin and Jenny Waynest are no exception. As unassuming lord and protector of an inclement northern land, John is mainly concerned with keeping off the bandits, how the harvests are coming along, and trying to make sense of the fragments of ancient books and lore that have survived troubled times in the kingdom. Jenny is concerned with her magic, her small native power further stunted by the fact that she cannot bring herself to spend all of herself on it, often distracted by John and their children.
    Together, years ago, they killed a dragon. Now a young man has journeyed from the king—the king who withdrew his troops for other dangers and left the Winterlands abandoned—to beg the only living Dragonsbane to repeat his deed, for a dragon has come to devastate the southern lands. The two must face a land at the brink of civil war, a will-less king, and the most vile kinds of magic. And the dragon, of course. In the second book, the stakes are even higher, the dangers greater, and the outcome questionable.
    I found Dragonsbane vintage Hambly at her best. Her characters are deftly drawn in all their human flaws (something too few fantasy writers bother with, tending either to the overly dramatic or the overly perfect), and her plotting is excellent. I laughed, I cried. Dragonshadow was not quite as good; it had the feel, as I finished it, of something done rather hastily and with some of her attention elsewhere. The ending is problematic, presumeably intended to set the stage for the third novel; I'll reserve final judgement until Knight of the Demon Queen is available, but I found it unsatisfying, a sudden drop in intensity that didn't seem to fit or to lead anywhere.
    On the other hand, I absolutely love her dragons. Nothing against Anne McCaffrey, but fantasy has seen far too many "nice" dragons in recent years. Hambly's dragons are gorgeous in their alienness and menace, and she injects reasons for their ways without making a naturalist's study of the affair. They may have their redeeming qualities, but they are not "nice" dragons, and for that I thank the author.

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Except where noted, all material on this site is © 1999 Rebecca J. Stevenson