Bride of the Rat God

Bride of the Rat God
Barbara Hambly, 1994
(e-edition 2011)

Premise: Small-town Norah is surprised how well she's adjusting to Hollywood as her sister-in-law's assistant and doggie caretaker.   Chrysanda (aka Christine) is a rising star in the silent movies with a flamboyant lifestyle and a troupe of Pekinese. Norah begins to hope that she can finally start to put the sadness of her husband's death behind her, when mysterious happenings begin to follow both women. What does Christine's necklace have to do with a gruesome murder? And how can they protect themselves from something they barely understand?

This was absolutely delightful, a B-movie set in literary prose. The plot has curses and visions and magic from the MYSTIC EAST, and through it all Norah is determinedly practical and grounded. I love how she manages, even when being practical involves listening to some dreams and not others, talking her friends into seeking out a Chinese wizard, and paying attention when the dogs are nervous.

There are enough little red herrings to keep the suspense up, even though the situation is much more obvious from the reader's perspective. I just loved the detail in the descriptions, the setting of Hollywood was very effective, etc.

I was also impressed that in this volume, Hambly managed to set a story in the 30's, with such a crazy plot, without either overdoing the style of that time or bringing the mentality of the characters too far into the present. This is a really hard balance, and it's why I've hardly ever found an author who wasn't writing in the 30's and 40's who can write, say, hard-boiled detective fiction well. But here, Norah is fair-minded, while Alec (friend and cameraman) is more rough-edged. There is some purposely dated language that borders on offensive, such as “Chinatown” as slang for inexplicable. Christine, meanwhile, idolizes all things Chinese, but seems to think everyone there dresses in gold cloth and lives in pagodas. It's such a delicate tightrope between being unrealistic about how characters at that time would have treated people of different races and building characters who modern readers can't relate to. I think it's very well done here.

It helps that the prose is great, the plot fascinating, and the tension slow to build but amazing in the pay-off.

I absolutely loved this book

5 Stars – An Awesome Book


  1. "a B-movie set in literary prose" - probably the best book description I've ever encountered...

  2. Thanks! :) I really enjoyed this book, but I did have some difficulty when it came to explaining what it was I liked about it.


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