Barbara Hambly: Stranger at the Wedding

I was looking for something light to read or reread, and chose this; the last book I read was her Bride of the Rat God, which I adore. This is set in the same world as the Windrose books (The Silent Tower/Silicon Mage/Dog Wizard), but isn’t really related to them; I think it’s a year or so after Dog Wizard. Kyra Peldyrin (aka Kyra the Red) is a wizard-in-training, living at the Citadel of Wizards. Her father disowned her when her powers became public knowledge; she was essentially his heir (a marriage was arranged, but she would have continued running the business). Mages are not allowed to own property or run businesses or marry, and the Inquisition is watching for improper magic use. Wizards who are trained at the Citadel take a vow to not use magic to “meddle in the affairs of humankind”; wizards who don’t take that vow are known as dog wizards, and generally aren’t well-trained and are not protected by the Council of Wizards against the Inquisition.

Kyra has been at the Citadel for six years, and is a journeyman wizard, preparing to test for the next level when her spells start acting randomly, usually in negative ways (scrying in water, the water turns to blood; summoning moths results in flies; card reading gives Death in the same place every time). She receives a letter from her younger sister Alix announcing her wedding to Blore Spenson, the Lord Mayor of Angelshand’s son, who is a bit older and who has been a trader (on ships) and has been convinced he needs to settle down and start a family. Kyra wakes up in the night with the knowledge that Alix will die on her wedding night and is on the coach to Angelshand the next day. Her father is dismayed to find her in his house, but permits her to stay. She is horrified to find out that the wedding is in a couple of days instead of the couple of weeks originally planned, which does not give her enough time to find the curse on Alix.

Kyra frantically tries to find the source of the curse (a wizard’s mark somewhere) while dealing with her family and various friends and acquaintances and the wedding preparations. She tries to find ways to delay the ceremony without breaking her vows (or at least not being noticed breaking them). The house is chaotic, with various friends and relatives visiting to see what is happening with the delays (one family want Spenson for their daughter and have been getting love potions from a dog wizard and attempt to bribe Kyra to help) and the extra servants for the wedding (the musicians chase anything female, including the other servants and the neighbor’s daughters). Alix herself is desperately in love with one of the pastry-cook’s assistants (who is very talented in his own right) but is determined to do what her father orders. Interspersed with the present-day activities are flashbacks to the events leading up to Kyra’s discovery of her powers and her eventual leaving home for the citadel.

I didn’t like this as much this time as I did the last time I read it; it used to be one of my favorite of her books. I’ve unfortunately found that to be true of many of her books; she used to be one of my favorite authors, but more recent rereads of many of her books have either stalled out or felt forced (but don’t remember why I felt that way; it’s been a few years). After the last round of re-reading, I decided that this and Bride of the Rat God (and maybe the Windrose Chronicles) were the only ones I liked. I haven’t been interested in most of her more recent works; I do have Sisters of the Raven somewhere, unread, and I tried Magic Time, but didn’t finish it (didn’t like the style, maybe; I think it was written like a script for a TV show).

In this particular case, I like her writing style and the world-building (though I wouldn’t want to live in this world). I reread this because I was looking for a comfort read; unfortunately, I think my current mood led to me being more critical of the book than I might have otherwise been. Kyra was annoying this time through; she is the sort of person who ignores anyone who is not important to her (servants are essentially furniture, especially), even though she mentions that her mage-training has made her more observant/able to observe more. She does eventually admit this as a flaw in her character, and it would be a much shorter book otherwise, but it’s still annoying. Admittedly, even if she was more observant of people, she might not have recognized the relevant person; poverty apparently took its toll. There was another incident of Kyra overlooking the obvious that really annoyed me (flashback to a relevant event, soon after seeing something similar and not recognizing it, and regardless of whether or not she recognized the similarity, not checking everything that could have been in contact with the trace of magic she found).

The other problem I had was that I didn’t find the romantic subplot particularly believable; I think my tolerance for whirlwind romances is lower than it used to be (and it was never very high), especially when there are severe obstacles to a successful relationship. In this particular case, they decided they were in love after three days; I don’t think they even had a conversation before the first kiss. In addition, one party had never had any sort of romantic attachment (not even schoolgirl crushes) and the other said he didn’t know that love could feel like that. The obstacles to a successful relationship were extremely severe, and I’m not sure I believe they could be overcome.

I didn’t dislike this book enough to get rid of it yet; there are parts that I really like. I will probably reread it again, eventually, hopefully when I’m not in as critical of a mood.

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