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Bride of the Rat God Paperback – October 31, 1994
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From the Publisher
Even though I don't usually read fantasy, I read this book because of the interesting setting--Hollywood in the 1920s. A strange setting for magic, so I had to find out how Hambly could make it work. And she does. This is an enjoyable romp--and if you're an SF editor who reads Fantasy for fun on the subway, this book is just the ticket.
--Ellen Key Harris, Editor, Del Rey Books
From the Inside Flap
amande was the sultriest vamp of the silver screen in Hollywood, California, in the year 1923. Then an elderly Chinese gentleman warned her that a trinket she'd worn in her last movie had marked her to be the bride of an ancient devil-god of Manchuria. Now the Rat God is stalking closer, and Chrysanda is discovering that there's no mousetrap big enough to keep her from being dragged unwilling to the altar!
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Readers of Barbara Hambly's novels will be familiar with her combinations of high fantasy and urban fantasy, because many of her novels have involved the intrusion of the otherworldly into the world we know. Although this particular novel is set entirely on Earth (1920s Hollywood, to be exact) the story peels back first the veil of showbiz glamour to reveal the mundane inner workings underneath, and then peels back that veil of mundanity to reveal a hidden world of spirits and portents, in which nothing is quite what it appears to be. Since Hollywood is all about illusion, this is a very effective metaphor. When that wild spirit world ensnares a Hollywood starlet and her entourage, things get deadly and dangerous very quickly. But the titular Rat God, who demands its sacrifice, may have chosen the wrong bride this time, because both Christine and those who love her are tough survivors who are determined to beat the odds, with a little help from some unexpected allies. In truth, this is a story about survival and recovering from past trauma, particularly in the cases of the wizard Shang Ko and Christine's sister-in-law Nora. While it's somewhat different from Hambly's usual fare, I think it's one of her best works.
The Kindle edition faithfully reproduces MOST of the book's materials, and the biographical materials and photos of Hambly are a nifty addition, but there's one glaring omission that really bothers me, and that's the absence of the symbols at the start of each chapter. The symbols are representations of fortune-telling coin-tosses, and correspond to the chapter titles, and it just feels wrong to me for them not to be visible on the page. If they'd still been in place (and if the original cover artwork had been used) I probably would have given this an unreserved five stars. Nevertheless, I am very glad to be able to take this book with me everywhere I go, and that's worth a great deal.
Reading this again on my Kindle was partly a nostalgia trip, but it was also great fun.
The setting is Hollywood, 1923, the silent movie era, with movie stars, speakeasies, wild parties and in this case one very dangerous creature on the hunt: The Rat God. Hambly has assembled a sympathetic cast: Norah, mourning her husband killed in the Great War; Christine, over the top movie star and Norah's sister-in-law; Chang a mysterious elderly gentleman with seemingly mad warnings, and a host of others, including three fabulous little Pekes.
Using the seemingly prim, English Norah as the POV character is perfect. A stranger in a strange land, Norah negotiates Los Angeles and the movie world with a combination of amazement and a down to earth attitude. Even Rat Gods aren't able to phase her, at least not completely.
It's clear that Hambly has done her research and she creates a great backdrop - if a Rat God is going to pop up somewhere to claim his bride then LA of 1923 seems somehow just the place.
I only wish someone had made this novel into a movie.
Grab the popcorn and read this.