Review: The Darwath Trilogy

Anne C. Miles > fantasy book reviews > Review: The Darwath Trilogy

Barbara Hambly wrote the Darwath Trilogy in the early 80’s. I read the series way back then. I knew these books had influenced my own writing. The premises are similar (portal fantasy). But I was very fuzzy on the details. So I picked them up again a few weeks ago for a reread.

Immediately I realized I’d confused this series with another. The one I recall has the main character, a girl, transported from an old house to another world. I remember the main character finding herself on a beach, I think riding a horse. Anyhow. That’s the book which came to mind while writing Sorrowfish. If anyone knows that story, give me a shout. I want to read it again. All I remember is the one scene.

I kept reading Darwath. It all came back to me fairly quickly. I remember liking the series. I still do. Hambly has a knack for both capturing a description perfectly and for memorable characters. For those of you unfamiliar with her, she’s sort of a female scion in fantasy fiction. She was president of the SFWA for several years. I always preferred her work to Ursula LeGuin’s honestly. Not that I didn’t love LeGuin. But Hambly it seemed to me never got quite the prestige or following of other fantasy writers. I’m not sure why.

The Time of the Dark is about a grad student named Gil. Pronounce that Jill in your head, as Gil is short for Gillian. Basically Gil studies medieval history and lives a quiet life. She begins to have strange dreams about another world. One day she finds a wizard from that world in her kitchen.

So yeah. I have influences. The similarities between this story and mine pretty much end with the opening chapters as Gil and an artist named Rudy end up in the other world, embroiled in its politics. It’s a compelling tale with rich world building and truly horrific monsters.

I devoured the whole trilogy as quickly as possible. The way Hambly uses Gil’s scholarship especially captured my imagination, as did the archaeology the characters engaged in to get to resolutions. An Arthurian-esque love triangle could have been more richly developed, but it was a great twist.

My only complaint, echoed by other readers, was the development of Gil’s relationship with Ingold, the wizard. I think the character’s age differences were problematic for some people, including me. While I did catch the foreshadowing before it evolved, it still seemed too far-fetched. But otherwise, the books were great fun.

I return to older books I read as a teen both to refresh myself on them and to compare them to today’s offerings. I’m happy to report this series has withstood the test of time. Any serious fantasy reader should add these to his or her reading list.

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