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REVIEW: Bride of the Rat God by Barbara Hambly

Dear Ms. Hambly,

The title of this book is what got my attention. I mean, how could it not? Once I saw it, I knew I had to read it. Who’s the Rat God? Who is his bride? What on earth is going on here?

Bride of the Rat God Barbara HamblyIf not for her actress sister-in-law Chrysandra Flamande taking her in, WWI widowed Norah Blackstone would still be an underpaid, overworked servant to a nasty, older woman in gray Manchester, England. Sometimes Norah still can’t believe how Christine blew into her life and whisked her away to sunny California as a companion to Christine as well as her three Pekinese dogs – Buttercreme, Chang Ming and Black Jasmine.

Though she can’t act to save her life, Christine is in the movie business and the pampered mistress of studio head A.F. Brown who’s given his “mad about all things Chinese” rising star a beautiful, though unusual, necklace reputed to have been looted from the Imperial Palace. On the night of the premiere of her latest movie two things happen – Norah meets camera man Alec Mindelbaum and an older Chinese man desperately tries to warn Christine of a life or death evil that’s been raised by her wearing the necklace. Already used to the lengths that movie fans will go to in order to see their favorites, Norah dismisses the odd old man though she and Alec agree he wasn’t like the usual fans.

But later that same night two more things happen – a stunt double who wore the necklace is brutally murdered and a violent storm blows through the area during which the three Pekes go berserk. The next morning the Chinese man, Shang Ko, appears and almost mystically manages to be hired as Christine’s groundskeeper. Still, no one is willing to believe what he says about the necklace and how it means Christine is now promised to an ancient, evil Manchurian god. But when bizarre things begin to happen on a location shoot followed by a mind blowing event after a star studded party, Christine, Norah and Alec can’t deny that something evil is lurking and maybe the old man is right. Can the four of them thwart the Rat God of his promised bride and keep from destroying half of Los Angeles while they do it?

After I read the glowing review of this book at All About Romance, I immediately ordered a used copy online that then sat on some bookshelves near my computer desk for years, silently urging me to read it. Finally I took it down and slid it into my reading rotation. Now that I finally read it, I wish I’d done so years ago. It’s fascinating, well written, fast paced and packed with tension leading to a dynamite ending. It’s also got a sweet romance between a woman who thought her heart was dead and a fantastic hero who’s probably a good four inches shorter than she is, bearded and who wears glasses. Readers who want to experience an unusual hero need look no further.

A friend of mine has Pekes and the descriptions of Christine’s three furry protectors are so accurate that they come alive for me as individual little people from Buttercreme’s outraged hiding when people visit the house, to Chang’s conviction that everyone is a long lost relative and finally little Jasmine struggling up and down stairs while being extremely vocal about that. They are also fiercely protective of both their mistress and Norah and play important roles in the ultimate take down of the Rat God.

The world of 1920s Hollywood with all its pre Hays Code wildness is vividly brought to life. The film stars of the day might have earned more money than the average American would see in a lifetime but the physical and mental cost of the 18 hour work days and churning out a film a month would need the easily prescribed cocaine to keep them going. And who cared for Prohibition? Free flowing booze, some of it even safely made!, was the order of the day. Sleek Nash roadsters, beaded flapper dresses and elegant cigarette holders add to the visual images that filled my head while reading the book.

As for the fantasy elements of the story, I guess if a reader is willing to buy a book called “Bride of the Rat God,” then he or she will be willing to go along with the plot. Clues are woven into the story from the beginning but one thing I like is how you gently drop them into the narrative without pointing neon arrows at them. Yeah the premise, when examined as a whole, is outrageous but since it’s doled out little by little, I had time to swallow the tiny pieces and buy into the whole shebang. The time frame of the story is also crucial since it draws on actual things which were common then such as powerful studio heads manipulating crime scenes to protect their investments, the simultaneous mania for China with the blatant racism against the Chinese in L.A., the specific locations in and around the city which feature in the book plus the “free for all” film industry of the day.

As well the danger is slowly revealed such as when Norah notices something about the foundation of Christine’s house after the early storm that scares her yet it’s another page or two before what alarms her is finally described. It allows time for my brain to magnify the mystery and terror of what could possibly be there and the implications that arise. Later on all the clues and forshadowing make sense but the whole thing is allowed to build to the thrilling climax.

The wealth of period detail, the pulse pounding ending, the complex characters, the tight narrative and three wonderful little dogs make “Bride of the Rat God” a winner for me. I wish it was currently in print but there are used copies to be found and an ebook version available. For people tired of vampires, were-creatures, Regencies, gazillionaire CEOs and secretly pregnant heroines this is something different to sit down and fall in love with. A

~Jayne

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Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.

41 Comments

  1. Lori
    Nov 12, 2011 @ 12:20:15

    And as you said: just brilliantly written. The story-telling craft of this book is amazing. And it captures the time and history so well, I believed the author had a time machine.

    Just a wonderful book.

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  2. Hillary
    Nov 12, 2011 @ 13:06:12

    I love this book! And most of Hambly’s other fantasies as well, it’s so good to see it reviewed here :)

    ReplyReply

  3. Sandra
    Nov 12, 2011 @ 13:08:52

    Sold… I was just looking for something off-the-wall to read. Unfortunately, the ebook doesn’t have that wonderful cover.

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  4. Elaine
    Nov 12, 2011 @ 13:16:14

    An excellent review of one of my favorite all-time books. May be time for a reread.

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  5. Janine
    Nov 12, 2011 @ 13:45:04

    Wow, a straight A from you! Those don’t come along every day.

    I started this book a few years ago and couldn’t get into it but I no longer recall the reason why. Maybe I should take a look and see if I still have it, since it sounds like it’s worth another try.

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  6. SonomaLass
    Nov 12, 2011 @ 14:47:55

    I love Hambly, but haven’t read this one. Thanks for highlighting it with this great review!

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  7. SonomaLass
    Nov 12, 2011 @ 14:54:13

    But OUCH! Really? $7.69 for the e-book of a 17-year-old MMP? Without even the cool cover. Lost sale.

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  8. Carolyn
    Nov 12, 2011 @ 15:17:36

    I love just about everything written by Barbara Hambly. I discovered her with her Time of the Dark series.

    I like her earlier works more than I do the current stuff. I hope a new generation will discover her and for them such great stories will be well worth the price.

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  9. Laura Florand
    Nov 12, 2011 @ 18:14:45

    Barbara Hambly is such a good writer. This actually is one of her books that has the least stuck in my mind (which isn’t to say it isn’t good, everything she writes is good). I think my favorites of hers, though, were the Windrose Chronicles.

    Jayne, are you reading more fantasy or was it more the period that interested you? If fantasy, based on what you’ve said about Hambly, I think you might like Martha Wells. She is an amazing fantasy writer, always with a great romance that threads through the plot. I love everything she has written, but I think you’ve mentioned sometimes wishing to see somewhat older heroines sometimes, in which case The Wheel of the Infinite would be my recommended one to start with.

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  10. Jayne
    Nov 12, 2011 @ 18:31:07

    @Sandra: Isn’t that a great cover?! While I was reading it, I kept closing the book just to look at it.

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  11. Jayne
    Nov 12, 2011 @ 18:32:37

    @Lori: I loved the historical details, how effortlessly they get included and how important they are to the story.

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  12. Jayne
    Nov 12, 2011 @ 18:34:47

    @SonomaLass: I mainly by ebooks now but for this one – and the cool cover – I’d break down and get a used print copy.

    ReplyReply

  13. Jayne
    Nov 12, 2011 @ 18:37:04

    @Carolyn: What books would you recommend for a newbie Hambly reader to try? Are there any you’d wait before reading?

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  14. Jayne
    Nov 12, 2011 @ 18:39:31

    @Laura Florand: It was more the period and the wild title that caught my attenion with this one. I remember the great review you did here of a Wells title and thinking I need to give it – and her – a try.

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  15. Jane Davitt
    Nov 12, 2011 @ 19:12:41

    I love this book. Hambly’s writing is in a class of its own. She can evoke a scene so vividly I’m right there in it. This one is one of my favorites by her.

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  16. Merrian
    Nov 12, 2011 @ 19:38:39

    I love Barbara Hambly’s books yet hadn’t heard of this one.

    I’m Aussie the price mentioned above is cheap for an e-book, though sad about the cover.

    I think it is an interesting question about the expectation of back list titles being discounted heavily. If the book stands on it’s merits as still a good (in this case “A”) read and we acknowledge the work the author has put in then isn’t it worth something?

    Though having said that I think there has to be a fair price I am quibbling about the $13.69 AUS it is listed for

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  17. Dana S
    Nov 12, 2011 @ 19:41:33

    Yeah, I looked at the ebook price and went straight to the library to check it out instead. I love having an ebook library.

    Thanks so much for the review, I just started it, and I’m enjoying it muchly.

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  18. Merrian
    Nov 12, 2011 @ 19:44:14

    @Jayne:
    The Darwath books were my start point with B Hambly and are still favourites.

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  19. Carolyn
    Nov 12, 2011 @ 19:50:48

    @Jayne: Hambly writes across the board: historical mysteries (the Benjamin January series, the Abigail Adams series), and other historicals, including vampires. But her early books were fantasy.

    My favorite is the Darwath series (Time of the Dark, Armies of Daylight, Walls of Air), where two people from our world are drawn into an alternate world and forced to deal with the differences and dangers and the politics of a completely different culture.

    I also liked The Ladies of Mandrigyn, with its different outlook on wizards, and The Windrose Chronicles, beginning with the Silent Tower, where a computer expert holds the secret to defeating an evil magic. The wizard in this one is delightful – slightly crazy and definitely eccentric.

    She’s such a good writer. I can’t recommend her highly enough.

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  20. Darlynne
    Nov 12, 2011 @ 20:43:53

    @SonomaLass: Kobo has a 20% off promo through November 14 (nov10us20) that worked for me just now, for a total price of $6.15. Woo hoo, a title I did not have to add to lostbooksales.com! Thanks, Jayne. I cannot wait to read this book.

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  21. Kerry D.
    Nov 12, 2011 @ 21:40:21

    My favourite Hambly books remain the Windrose Chronicles. I reread The Silent Tower earlier this year and still have to find a moment to slip The Silicon Mage into my reading schedule.

    I’d just like to make a quick comment, especially for those readers who were born around when these were first published (the 1980s) or later. Don’t be put off by the outdated computer tech. The hardware might have been well surpassed, but the concept is as solid today as it was 30 years ago and the characters are amazing.

    As for Bride of the Rat God, I’ve only read it one once, but I do remember liking it a lot. Maybe I’ll have to add it to my massive “things to reread” list.

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  22. romsfuulynn
    Nov 12, 2011 @ 23:30:39

    @sonomalass – Hambly is worth it. I have tattered paper copies (plural copies of my favorite titles) of most of Hambly’s books.

    All of her ebook backlist came out at once and I’ve been getting them by series on a paycheck by paycheck basis.

    Plus there was were the Benjamin January books I was buying for my husband. Plus there is a new one coming. Plus I adore the new Abigail Adams mysteries she is writing as Barbara Hamilton.

    Bride of the Rat God is a one-off and I recommend it too. I also really love Stranger at the Wedding.

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  23. etv13
    Nov 12, 2011 @ 23:43:09

    This may be my favorite Hambly, though I also love the first three Darwath books. I try to read this one every couple of years around Christmas, since it is set around then.

    I have to say, though, that this is one of those books where the back-cover blurb led me to expect quite a different story (centering on Christine rather than Norah), and I would still like to read a story like the one the blurb led me to imagine.

    @romsfuulynn: Have you read any Heyer? The hero in Stranger at the Wedding really reminds me of a certain sort of Heyer hero.

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  24. Wahoo Suze
    Nov 13, 2011 @ 00:16:26

    I LOVE Hambly. The Darwath and Sun Wolf & Starhawk series got me through high school. She’s gone in a few directions I didn’t follow, but most places she went were a really good trip.

    What does it say about my high school self that I had a humongous crush on the Icefalcon?

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  25. Kerry D.
    Nov 13, 2011 @ 00:42:11

    @Wahoo Suze: I have a friend who would totally agree with your high school crush on the Icefalcon.

    For me, it was always Antryg, although Ingold will always have a place in my heart too. Every time in first year Chemistry I had to write about the Cahn-Ingold rules, somehow an Inglorian snuck in my notes as well. I’m sure it would have confused fellow students who borrowed them.

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  26. Jayne
    Nov 13, 2011 @ 07:46:43

    @romsfuulynn: Wow, when someone has multiple copies of used books (and I have my share of Patricia Veryan ones) that says something to me – that an author is not only worth seeking out but is also beloved.

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  27. Jayne
    Nov 13, 2011 @ 07:47:47

    Thanks everyone for your suggestions and recommendations!

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  28. Grace
    Nov 13, 2011 @ 08:09:58

    I love Barbara Hambly. My favorites by her are from the Windrose Chronicles. The Silent Tower and the Silicon Mage. The hero in those, Antryg Windrose, with his spectacles and gimcrack beads, remains in my top five list of fabulous heroes.

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  29. Ren
    Nov 13, 2011 @ 08:49:31

    You sold me. I’ve never heard of her before and the title? I knew I had to get one. I ordered a used paperback copy (with the same cover!)and it should be here within a week or so.
    Thanks for the review :)

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  30. Kelly L.
    Nov 13, 2011 @ 10:00:23

    I so need to reread this. I read it about 12 years ago and really liked it.

    ReplyReply

  31. Melanie
    Nov 13, 2011 @ 10:01:11

    Barbara Hambly’s Benjamin January series is one of my favorite mystery series, but I haven’t read any of her fantasies. I need to read this now.

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  32. cleo
    Nov 13, 2011 @ 11:20:03

    Thanks for reviewing this Jayne. Funny that it’s the cover that pulled you in. When I read it (many years ago), I was teased because of cover, so I kind of resented it. Glad to hear that her back list is available digitally now – didn’t realize that.

    @romsfuulynn: I love Stranger at the Wedding too (except for one quibble with the ending).

    I agree with the Windrose and Darwath recommendations. I’m surprised no one’s mentioned Dragonsbane. That’s my very favorite Hambly comfort re-read. It’s the beginning of the Winterlands series – some of the later books got too dark for me – but I love this one about a middle aged witch and her lover who first fight a dragon, and then save it. Hambly plays a lot with looking at things from different perspectives in this one (sort of like she does in the Ben January books, but different) It doesn’t really have romance in it – they’re already an established couple with two youngish children when the book starts, but it’s beautiful.

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  33. Wahoo Suze
    Nov 13, 2011 @ 13:20:06

    @cleo: Dragonsbane was a delight, but by the time she got to what’s currently the last book in the series, I couldn’t go there.

    I pretty much don’t read anything that doesn’t have romantic story line, and I shy away from anything without an HEA like it’s poisonous fire. I’m depressed enough already without my entertainment bringing me down.

    So the back blurb of the latest Dragon book was sufficiently ambiguous that I haven’t read it. I’m invested in the romance, it it was looking too dicey to risk.

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  34. cleo
    Nov 13, 2011 @ 13:39:03

    @Wahoo Suze: I totally agree about the rest of the Dragon / Winterlands books. I think I read a couple of them because I loved Dragonsbane so much, but they kept getting darker and more depressing and I couldn’t go there either. Not sure if I’ve read all of them, but the last one I read involved demons and a barely happy for now ending and it wasn’t fun. I recommend Dragonsbane as a stand alone, at least for romance readers.

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  35. Kerry D.
    Nov 13, 2011 @ 14:51:34

    Like others, I choose to look on Dragonsbane as a stand alone. The follow ups got to dark for me too. But Dragonsbane is a gorgeous book.

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  36. Jenny Schwartz
    Nov 13, 2011 @ 16:55:20

    Jayne, this is one of my favourite ever books. When I saw you’d reviewed it, my eyes lit up. I so agree with the A rating and I hope everyone goes on to read it. Brilliant book!

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  37. DS
    Nov 14, 2011 @ 08:56:51

    I am also a Hambly fan. Dragonstar was published the year her husband, George Alec Effinger, also a sff writer, died. Effinger had been in ill health for a very long time and financially stressed by medical bills. I’m not surprised that her writing took a dark turn.

    I didn’t realize she was also Barbara Hamilton. I just got the three Abigail Adams mysteries.

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  38. Lauren
    Nov 15, 2011 @ 13:54:31

    Those Who Hunt the Night is a classic. Worth a read even if you are sick of vampires.

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  39. Anah Crow
    Nov 15, 2011 @ 14:52:07

    I just bought the book—which is a rare thing for me, given how I’ve devoted my book budget to research this year. I love Hambly’s writing (and Effinger was a huge influence on me when I was a kid). I’m looking forward to reading this.

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  40. REVIEW: The Silent Tower by Barbara Hambly - Dear Author
    Nov 28, 2011 @ 07:29:46

    [...] REVIEW: Bride of the Rat God by Barbara Hambly Home [...]

  41. Pamela
    Jan 02, 2012 @ 17:17:13

    This book has been in my TBR Mtn for at least 2 yrs. I must must must pull it out and read it. Thanks for the very interesting review!

    ReplyReply

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