Barbara Hambly’s books are hard for me to review. It’s stupid and annoying that bad books are so much easier to blather on about than the good ones, but (as I say probably too often) it’s easier to pinpoint why something is not good than why it is. And honestly, all my reviews of Ms Hambly’s books start looking pretty much the same – amazing characters, superb settings I feel I could step into (but wouldn’t necessarily want to), and the sort of prose I would sacrifice a body part to be able to produce. (Depending on the body part.)
These characters … As a friend, I want Benjamin January to have an easy, happy life – but if that were the case, then as a reader I would be bereft. Rose is either someone I want as my best friend, or who I want to be (or both). And Hannibal Sefton is one of my favorite characters in fiction. Minou, Olympe and her family, Henri, Mme Janvier, and of course Abishag Shaw are all practically kin by now.
The racial and class dynamics of 1800’s New Orleans (and its environs) are an inexhaustible setting for these stories to play out. The intricacies of rank and position and society peculiar to this place and time make even a fairly common trope – infatuated rich gentleman sets out to marry a young woman less than a third his age – fresh and intriguing. No one can wage class warfare like the ladies of New Orleans, wherever they fall in the pecking order. And no one can wend their way through all of that intricacy and intrigue, keeping their heads with an often sardonic air while all those around them are losing theirs, better than Benjamin and his (dare I say) Scooby Gang.
I miss Barbara Hambly’s non-vampire fantasies – but as long as there are Ben January books, the world is a better place.
Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher, from whom I received a copy of this book for review.