One of Hambley's best!, June 4, 2003
Reviewer: Steven Sammons (Auburn University, AL United States)
This book, which I stumbled onto some years back in a used bookstore, has to be one of Hambley's best efforts, and that is saying something from such a talented and diverse author. This is a different kind of fantasy book, not about awe-inspiring heroes or mighty wizards, but one told from the viewpoint of an ordinary everyday soldier, who turns out to not be so ordinary. It details the life and philosophies of a mercenary, which is not common in fantasy literature. The characters are well-written and fully fleshed out, very believable. The main character, Capt. Sun Wolf, is one of the best "everyman" characters in print. His efforts to train a group of women how to fight to rescue their men are the central focus of most of the book, and it is wonderful to see how his attitudes change throughout the book. The main female characters are strongly written, and the central female character, Sheera, is one of the unforgettable characters in fanstasy literature. The tale of love between the capt and his second-in-comman Starhawk, both believing the other has no feelings for them, is heartwrenchingly beautiful and gripping. All in all, this story introduces the reader to a world that feels so real you almost expect to open a door and enter it. And the main plot twist of the secret of magical power is so shocking that it is doubtful the reader will know it's coming. This is a great story, and I highly recommend it to anyone lucky enough to find it in some old dusty bookstore.
The Ladies of Mandrigyn is utterly delightful. It is, in fact, exactly what I was looking for when I attempted Jennifer Roberson's Sword Dancer, which so disappointed me. The Ladies of Mandrigyn makes no pretensions to being anything more than a pure sword-and-sorcery novel, replete with heroic acts and larger than life characters played out against a highly romantic background, but the execution is flawless, the characters never cease being sympathetic (or devolve into charicatures) and, most importantly, there is plenty of humor.
Sun Wolf and Starhawk, needless to say, are stock characters. What so delighted me about this novel was that Hambly handled them like real people without ever losing what has made those stock characters so successful in the fantasy genre. She spent most of the novel inside their two heads (though it was technically written third-person omniscient, because when it suited her Hambly did delve into other characters' motivations at will), letting us see the pasts that made them what they are. And by staying in their heads so closely through all the action, we were also able to see the fears and doubts that neither character would ever share with those around him/her, maintaining both the realism for the reader and the virtual perfection for the observer inside the novel.
What set this novel apart even further from the run of the mill sword-and-sorcery novel was that that realism of character extended to all of the minor characters in the novel. Every character that has a speaking role is an easily identified stock character that Hambly makes completely three dimensional. Where this is most impressive (or at least most noticeable) is with the eponymous ladies of Mandrigyn. Most fantasy novels, even those written by women, have very few female characters. This may be because fantasy is usually action or politics oriented and women traditionally have not been leaders in those spheres; it may be because the female fantasy authors today grew up reading male fantasy authors who only introduced women to their novels as damsels in distress; it may be because women still grow up in a society that places more value on men. Whatever the reason, I have learned to enjoy the occasional strong female character in isolation from her own kind. Starhawk is this type of strong female character, and if the story had been about Sun Wolf and Starhawk in their mercenary band that is exactly what it would have looked like.
But the brilliant (though of course still not unique -- I can name one or two other authors that have a similar premise, but only one or two) thing that Hambly did in this novel was make Sun Wolf the fish out of water, a lone strong man surrounded by women. She didn't take the cop-out route of making the women a bizarre Amazonian exception to all the normal gender roles; she set him down firmly among women who were used to fulfilling those traditional gender roles and are being forced out of them by circumstances out of their control. The myriad ways the women reacted to this unwanted freedom is wonderfully realized, as is Sun Wolf's gradual awareness of how similar and different these women are from the men (and the occasional solitary woman) he is used to training. I especially loved Hambly decision to give Sheera that calamitous magic that true leaders have, that charisma that turns otherwise intelligent human beings into lemmings, rather than simply making her leader because her soon-to-be husband possesses that magic.
There isn't that much else to say about the novel. I will admit, Hambly doesn't write her battle scenes terribly well; I found myself lost within them at several points. However, she seems to know that this is a weakness, because she lets most of the battles occur off stage, keeping the focus of the story on those things she does best: funny dialogue and wonderful characterization. I am eagerly looking forward to reading the second volume in this trilogy.
A good adventure story. I enjoy books that looks seriously at what the role of women should be in a society.
The hero is described as having "beer-colored" eyes and a moustache that hangs beneath his misshapen nose "like water weeds". Starhawk, his commander, is not exactly pretty but "cold" and serene (somewhat like a star, perhaps?). All the women love Sun Wolf, and all the men love Starhawk.
Utterly formulaic, with glimpses here and there of good descriptions. I did finish it though, so engaging enough.
The City of Mandrigan was conquered and its men enslaved in the foul mines of the evil Wizard King, Altoikis. Now the women of the city , led by 'Sheera Galen's, had come to hire the mercenary army of Captain Same Wolf; But Sam Wolf was too wise to become involved in fighting wizardry...
until he woke to find himself kidnapped and offered a grim choice by Sheera He could train and lead the ladies of Madrigyn against Altokis--or he could die in lingering agony from the anzid they given him and for which only they had the antidote.
There was more to the ladies than Sam Wolf could have guessed.There was also far more to the evil of Altiokis than anyone knew.
But above all there was great deal more to Sam Wolf and his destiny than he had ever dreamed.
I enjoyed reading this book, and found it well-written and believable.
First in the Unschooled Wizard series featuring Sun Wolf and Starhawk.
Swords Against the Wizard. The City of Mandrigyn was conquered and its men enslaved in the foul mines of the evil Wizard King, Altiokis. Now the women of the city, led by Sheera Galernas, had come to hire the mercenary army of Captain Sun Wolf. But Sun Wolf was too wise to become involved in fighting against wizardry...until he woke to find himself kidnapped and offered a grim choice by Sheera. He could train and lead the ladies of Mandrigyn against Altiokis - or he could die in lingering agony from the anzid they had given him and for which only they had the antidote.
There was more to the ladies than Sun Wolf could have guessed. There was also far more to the evil of Altiokis than anyone knew. But above all there was a great deal more to Sun Wolf and his destiny than he had ever dreamed.