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The Ladies Of Mandrigyn (1984)

The Ladies of Mandrigyn (1984)

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3.93 of 5 Votes: 4
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0345309197 (ISBN13: 9780345309198)
ballantine books

About book The Ladies Of Mandrigyn (1984)

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.

It's been a long time since I've reread The Ladies of Mandrigyn and I've changed a lot in the meantime, making it interesting to revisit the story with new eyes. Though I knew the book was a fond favorite, I don't think I ever realized before how much of the book I'd absorbed to carry back into the real world. At the time, there were few enough books in SFF--and further, few enough that I'd read--that were female and feminist in the way Ladies is. At the age I was when I first read Ladies, I suspect it was a book I needed rather badly, in ways I couldn't describe or even understand at the time. But, having engaged in a lot more feminist discussion in the meantime, especially where it intersects with SFF, I can see how fortunate I was to find and absorb this book when I did. And, even now, with a greater prevalence (or even dominance) of women in the genre, I think that there's a lot for modern readers in Ladies' varied depiction of women.Interestingly enough, though I always loved the character of Starhawk, in the chapters told through Sun Wolf's POV, I was always, I think, a lot more sympathetic to him and his viewpoint. Which only makes sense, as he is the story's protagonist and a fairly sympathetic one...but this time around, I found myself wishing a great deal more for greater insight to the women of the troop because our experience with them is so limited by Sun Wolf's presence and viewpoint and his opportunity for more is equally limited by his circumstances. It's kind of fascinating to imagine what a different story it would've been written from Sheera's POV, or Amber Eyes or Denga Rey. That being said, familiarity and time and the desire for even more female POV haven't made the story any less readable. From a purely sword & sorcery adventure level, it's a good read, the hothouse intrigue of the scenes in Mandrigyn balanced nightly by the road trip with Starhawk and Fawn. Ladies is the first Hambly book I ever read and, having now read every other thing she's written, it was also interesting to see how much the themes I recognize from her later works are still very much present here, particularly that of (view spoiler)[untrained/unskilled antagonists who derive (or otherwise shortcut) their power from perverted and/or inhuman sources (Altiokis here, Dennis in Those Who Hunt the Night, The Nazi magicians from the Sun-Cross books, Dyzm from Planet of Twilight). (hide spoiler)]

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This is the book that's my inspiration, that got me started writing. I'm on my third incarnation, it's rubber-banded together, but I love this book!Sun Wolf is a nercenary captain who Sheera Galernas tries to hire to free her city from an evil wizard. Not being a stupid man - nor suicidal - he refuses. He thinks that's the end of it. He's got a lot to learn about desperate women. She poisons him, kidnaps him and issues him an ultimatum - since his men wouldn't come, Sun Wolf can teach HER women to fight instead. Shopkeepers, prostitutes, hairdressers and nuns as warriors? Sun Wolf figures his ancestors are having a good laugh at his expense.His second Starhawk (along with Fawn, Sun Wolf's latest concubine) travels overland to rescue him. She learns more about the evil wizard Altiokis and worries she might be too late, but she has to know his fate.This is a book about strong women, about learning you can do more than you ever thought possible, and what the price of honor is. There are those who buckle to corruption and turn a blind eye, there are those that join right in, and there are those who fight. Sun Wolf learns a lot about women - and himself.I love Sun Wolf's sense of humor, and his interactions with the women during training - like when one of the women failed and he made her go sit down, and she asked to try again. He says, "No, because you only had one chance and now you're dead." Or yelling at the long-haired women in the rain "Next woman who touches her hair in (combat) practice I'm cutting it off."The men of Mandrigyn were in for a big shock when they got home.Loved this book!

This is a re-read. The last time I read this was 20 years ago or so. To start with, Barbara Hambly has always been one of my favourite writers. Her stuff shaped me in its own way as much as Spider Robinson's Callahan books. The strong women that weren't in Tolkien or Piers Anthony were in her books. I've always loved the way Hambly writes warrior women. Hambly's classic fantasy stuff has in the past year or so been re-released into e-books, so I'm going to go back through my old favourites. I don't re-read books that much - mostly I only do so for long series to refresh my memory when the next one comes out. So this is going to be interesting.I definitely still love this book. I love the way she writes warriors, and I love the way she writes magic. What struck me over and over again, though, is how much the book has aged. Starhawk seems odd compared against modern fantasy heroines like Michelle Sagara's Kaylin or Amanda Downum's Isyllt. The idea of a female mercenary, hard-edged and brutal, who is utterly chaste because she avoids love is a little jarring when her male compatriots sleep around without ever falling in love. Starhawk is a woman character from an era that thought of women differently. Hambly's breaking the tropes of the fantasy women of the 80s by being a warrior at all. The fantasy I've been reading more recently has more breadth to work from, and has built up its own tropes. So it's a little jarring having those tropes missing.The way society looks at women has changed, too. Early on, when Sun Wolf is training the Ladies of Mandrigyn, there's a scene where he looks at them stripped down for training, and thinks critically of their soft bodies, untoned and weak, though shapely and lovely. North American society is no longer so critical of muscle tone on women. Which one would think would be awesome, but has unintended weirdness (see #5 here: So while it makes sense for the ladies to look that way when they start, since their culture keeps women from doing much of anything active as much as possible, the fact that getting more muscular doesn't seem to make any of them more attractive is another thing that jars a bit to this modern reader.Finally, there's bits of essentialism going on - looking with a woman's eyes, feeling with a woman's heart. The sort of Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus thing that what I think of as progressive has moved away from.None of which is to say that this is a bad book, or a politically incorrect one, or that I didn't love it. It's just fascinating to see how things have changed, in the real world and the stories we tell.
—Matt Fimbulwinter

I can't really specify why, but this is one of my absolute favorite fantasy novels. Maybe it's because I first read it when I was 11, after a reading rampage of both good (Robert E. Howard, Fritz Leiber, Michael Moorcock) and bad (Terry Brooks, David Eddings) fantasy and suddenly feeling "at home", finding something that really suited me. Or maybe it's because it really is a perfect mix of low fantasy, suspense, horror, and colorful characters.Sunwolf and Starhawk's world may feel bleak and small compared to many contemporary fantasy epics, but to me it feels very real, it has a sort of low key authenticity to it that makes the fantastic elements, such as the horrible nunwa all the more special. Hambly's characters also have a special warmth to them, quite different from the often aloof and distant personalities in the genre. Here, no one is "the chosen one", there are no prophecies, and no one is destined to save the world. These are simply people who do what they do, and try to survive and make a living in a often quite uncaring world, which also makes them quite symphathetic, regardless of whether they are mercenaries, aging scholars or spoiled housewives.A special mention should go to the strong female characters, and there are quite a few of them in this book. It's quite refreshing, as women in the genre usually tend to either fall into a few rather tired archetypes, or fail to be anything but flat cardboard cutouts used for window dressing.

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