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Barbara Hambly is an American SF and mystery writer. Her works include several otherworld fantasy series, a historical fantasy series with vampires, and a series of historical mysteries.
In addition to her self-originated work she has written three Star Trek Expanded Universe novels (Ishmael, Ghost-Walker and Crossroad), two Star Wars Expanded Universe novels (the first and third books in The Callista Trilogy), and two tie-in novels for the Beauty and The Beast TV series, as well as episodes of Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors and Centurions. She also collaborated on the first Magic Time novel with the franchise's creator, Marc Scott Zicree.
On the Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism, her works tend to be a ways off from either end. The heroes are good people, but realistically complex and possessed of human imperfections, and they often face large and complicated problems that can't be solved simply by smiting monsters. And when it comes to monsters, the fanged squamous horrors are often given a run for their money by some of the human beings.
Two good starting points for Hambly are Bride of the Rat God, in which an actress in 1920s Hollywood becomes the unwitting target of an ancient Chinese curse, and Stranger at the Wedding (aka Sorcerer's Ward), a mixture of Regency romance and murder mystery with the added twist that the protagonist has foreseen the murder magically and is trying to solve it before it happens. Both are standalone novels, and feature smaller-scale problems that admit of relatively neat happy endings, but are still sufficiently characteristic to give you an idea of whether this is the kind of thing you like.
- Apothecary Alligator: In the dog wizard Tibbeth's shop in Stranger at the Wedding.
A mummified crocodile hung from the low rafters overhead
- Arranged Marriage:
- The marriage around which Stranger at the Wedding revolves.
- In Circle of the Moon, it is mentioned that Raeshaldis (known simply as the Eldest Daughter in her own family), ran away from an Arranged Marriage to study Functional Magic. She is not happy to learn that one of her younger sisters — much younger — now looks like being forced into the match instead.
- Tally in The Rainbow Abyss, which caused a few problems when Rhion showed up.
- Tertullia Vara's arranged marriage to a 'greasy' Syrian merchant is an important plot point in Search the Seven Hills.
- Artifact of Death: The cursed necklace in Bride of the Rat God was used in olden times to dedicate human sacrifices; any woman who wears it in circumstances resembling those of the original ritual will be dead within a month.
- Awesomeness By Analysis: Bunches.
- In the Star Trek tie-in novel Ishmael, Spock excels at pool without thinking about it, later commenting to a surprised onlooker that it is nothing but simple geometry and physics.
- Brain Uploading: The Silicon Mage (title and character), in the Windrose series.
- Combat Pragmatist: Dragonsbane goes into some detail about how incredibly difficult it is to kill a dragon. John uses tactics that Gareth finds appalling (including shredding the dragon's wings with poisoned harpoons), but John knows that trying to fight a dragon "honorably" is pure suicide.
- Comic Book Fantasy Casting:
- Antryg Windrose is basically the Fourth Doctor as a wizard. Reportedly, Hambly even said she mentally cast him as played by Tom Baker. Certainly she describes him to a 'T'.
- Ingold Inglorion is very obviously the late Sir Alec Guiness as Obi-Wan Kenobi, brown robes, beautiful voice and all.
- According to her official web site, the leads of Stranger at the Wedding are Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy.
- Corrupt Church: The "Darwath" and "Windrose" series each have a generic "The Church" that has no discernible reason for existing other than to make Our Heroes miserable, as it has no connection with the real life of the rest of the population, and no visible theology other than "wizards are evil". (The Church of Windrose's world gets a more nuanced depiction in Stranger at the Wedding, at least.)
- Costume Porn: Stranger at the Wedding is an example of detailed clothing description being used well to reveal character and setting.
- Crash Into Hello: In Stranger at the Wedding. (She is looking where she's going, but she's not used to the elaborate dress she's wearing, trips on the hem, and falls straight into his arms.)
- Deconstruction: Of classic fantasy clichés: Often. Lampshaded all to hell in Dragonsbane.
- Dreaming of Times Gone By: In Bride of the Rat God, one of the characters has a dream in which she sees the ancient ritual in which the cursed necklace was used.
- Eldritch Abomination: In The Ladies of Mandrigyn, Altiokis's power source. It gets him in the end.
- Epigraph: Bride of the Rat God quotes the I Ching.
- Expecting Someone Taller: Gareth's first encounter with the renowned dragon-slayer, John Aversin, in Dragonsbane.
- Eye Scream: What Sun Wolf has to do to himself in The Ladies of Mandrigyn, for one.
- Friendly Local Chinatown: In Bride of the Rat God
- Functional Magic: In the Darwath books and the Ferryth books, mages possess an inherent gift, which must then be developed with training in Rule Magic.
- Golden Age of Hollywood: The setting of Bride of the Rat God
- Ghostapo: In The Magicians of Night
- Heroic Wannabe: Gareth in Dragonsbane.
- Historical Fantasy:
- Bride of the Rat God
- The Magicians of Night
- Historical Fiction: To Search The Seven Hills aka The Quirinal Hill Affair.
- Intercontinuity Crossover: Her Star Trek tie-in novel Ishmael is an extended crossover with the 1968-1970 ABC series Here Come The Brides, including several Mythology Gags spanning both series.
- Low Fantasy: All her fantasy novels.
- The Mad Hatter: Antryg Windrose is very charismatically eccentric, has a reputation for being "dangerously insane", and in deep characterization confesses that he really is mad, from long years of having to sustain beliefs contrary to the reality of others around him.
- Market-Based Title: Sorcerer's Ward (Stranger at the Wedding)
- Mega Crossover: Her Star Trek: The Original Series Tie-in Novel Ishmael puts an amnesiac, Time Traveling Spock in the middle of the 1960s TV show Here Come the Brides — and then throws in characters and references from a dozen more Western and Science Fiction TV shows and films including Bonanza, Doctor Who, Have Gun — Will Travel, Battlestar Galactica and the Dollars Trilogy.
- Our Dragons Are Different: The dragons of the Winterlands series are telepathic, magically endowed, and fairly intelligent, if a little isolated and alien in mindset. They have an honest-to-goodness addiction to gold, which is why they tend to hoard it.
- Pretty in Mink: In Bride of the Rat God, the title character is a movie star, and lets her cousin frequently borrow her furs, including a chinchilla coat. That's the clothing equivalent of loaning a Mercedes.
- Prima Donna Director: in Bride of the Rat God
- Properly Paranoid: In Dragonsbane:
"Why?" Gareth bleated. "What's wrong? For three days you've been running away from your own shadows..."
- Purple Prose: Her Star Wars novels have a, shall we say, mauve-ish tinge to them. Done fairly well, though.
- Spirit Advisor: In the Sisters of the Raven books, Pontifer Pig is this to Pomegranate. Those who know her mostly assume that she is hallucinating about the ghost of her late pet. (In Circle of the Moon, however, some consideration is given to the theory that Pontifer might have been a djinn who is managing to use Pomegranate as a host.)
- Translator Microbes: The "spell of tongues" in the Windrose series- which doesn't work over the telephone.
- Trapped in Another World: The Darwath series, Joanna in the Windrose series.