Book Review: Bride of the Rat God by Barbara Hambly

Book Review: Bride of the Rat God by Barbara Hambly

As a long time fan of Barbara Hambly’s world-building and character-building skills, I was very excited to put Bride of the Rat God on my to reading list. When, in 1923, movie star Chrysanda Flamande (real name Christine Blackstone) sweeps into her sister-in-law’s life, Norah finds herself moving from a small village in England into the glittering circles of Hollywood’s most famous directors and stars. And after her husband’s death in WWI, Norah needs someone to take care of and to learn to live again.

But as the latest movie goes forward, things keep going wrong. A mysterious old Chinese man, brutal murders, a rigged explosion (instead of the fake one), and restless dreams plague the two women. Someone has chosen Christine to be the rat god’s bride sacrifice, and it’s up to Norah, a broken wizard, and three Pekingeses dogs to keep Chris safe.

Yes, it does actually say “Too beautiful to live! Too wild to die!”

This 1994 Del Ray novel has recently been re-released as an e-book by Open Road Publishings with a new cover and blurb. While the new cover (above) creates a somewhat misleading PNR atmospheric, it’s a huge improvement over its predecessor (right), which gave the even more incorrect impression that the novel’s all about a face-off between a 20′s flapper film star Christine and a large, Chinese style rat/dragon head.

In fact, the rat god only truly makes its explosive, fiery appearance a little over halfway in the book. The real suspense of the tale comes from the reader’s knowledge that something is after Christine and watching Norah putting it all together. The dramatic irony of what the reader knows vs what the character know is excruciating–in the best way possible.

Overall, the story is a well-paced mystery with a supernatural twist. Hambly crafts delicious, vivid prose and writes characters with heart, making it impossible not to invest in them. The entire story is steeped with the atmosphere of the silent film era, and Norah’s  slow recovery from her husband’s death to finding love again is the perfect subplot.

Wonderful human element, delightful prose, and a solid, mature story that weaves the 20′s seamlessly into the narrative and into the inner life of the characters.

If you need more convincing, check out this excerpt of Bride of the Rat God on Scribd, and see if it’s a story for you.

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Complimentary copy courtesy of
Netgalley and Open Road Publishing.

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