Looking at those book reviews I’d written years ago inspired me to reread one of the books. I found it just as interesting and well-written now as I did fifteen years ago.
Stranger at the Wedding by Barbara Hambly (1994)
This is a fantasy with a romance subplot. Kyra, a young wizard-in-training (in a land where wizards are viewed with distrust, restricted by law, forbidden to marry or own property, and frequently executed) returns to her family home for her younger sister’s wedding. Her father threw her out six years ago when she wouldn’t give up her wizardry, and he isn’t happy to see her again. She can’t tell anyone that she had a vision her sister would die on her wedding night. So even though using magic to interfere in human events is forbidden, Kyra secretly does little magics to delay the wedding while she searches for the source of the curse on her sister. The bishop falls and breaks his ankle, the church gets infested by thousands of mice, the next church gets flooded by broken pipes. (Even though some funny things happen, the story is by no means a comedy.)
Meanwhile, the younger sister is miserable because she is secretly in love with the pastry chef—but this is a land where women have little say in their lives and marriages are arranged as business partnerships between families. And the groom isn’t so eager either, doesn’t have anything in common with his bride-to-be, but finds his wizardly future sister-in-law very interesting… Kyra also realizes he is smarter and more understanding than she anticipates, once she’s forced to involve him in trying to save her sister.
Underlying it all are flashbacks to Kyra’s first teacher in wizardry—whom she helped convict of misuse of power, and whom she watched burned at the stake. But was he really guilty? A lot of thought is put into the ethics of magic. Magic is like physics, you can move or change things, but not create something from nothing. If you magically make it rain to end the drought, you had to bring those rainclouds from somewhere else—and maybe they needed that water as much as you. Kyra is trying to save her sister, but how does that affect other people?
I enjoyed the whole story–it made me think and it made me feel. The ending is like real life—not everything is tied up and perfectly resolved and the main characters are going to have some rough times on the paths they’ve chosen, but the potential is there for them to get what they want from life.
(Although this story takes place in the same world as Hambly’s Windrose Chronicles, it is not part of that trilogy.)