(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Dragonsbane was one of the first adult fantasy novels to make the Best Books List (1986). Many of Barbara Hambly’s other works, such as The Rainbow Abyss (1991), traverse the voids between alternate universes and time sequences. Dragonsbane, in contrast, is set completely within one time frame and one universe.

Common threads run throughout Hambly’s various work, which includes Star Wars novels such as Children of the Jedi (1995) and fantasies from the Darwath Trilogy (The Time of the Dark, 1982; The Walls of Air, 1983; and The Armies of Daylight, 1983) to The Witches of Wenshar (1987) to the Windrose Chronicles (The Silent Tower, 1986; The Silicon Mage, 1988; and Dog Wizard, 1993). Among these threads are her ability to draw memorable characters and her examination of the uses and abuses of power. Dragonsbane, a formula fantasy, is no exception. Critics alternately accuse Hambly of providing too much narration and too little dialogue and praise her for presenting charming vignettes of everyday life. Dragonsbane offers some of the best Hambly has to offer—suspenseful narration, a gritty view of late medieval life, and compelling, likable characters.

In the plain, thirty-seven-year old witch with limited powers, Jenny Waynest; the gangly scholar John Aversin, who has the audacity to kill a dragon using an axe; and even bespectacled Prince Gareth, Hambly realistically portrays antiheroes who simultaneously defy and fulfill their mythic roles. Hambly highlights the conflict between Jenny’s desire for unlimited power and her humanity by presenting a major plot complication that pits the fragmented Jenny against her single-minded alter egos, evil energy-vampire Zyerne and amoral Morke-leb. Hers is a Frankensteinian view of the sterility and, sometimes, evil that ensues when one dedicates oneself totally to anything, be it art, magic, or science, without regard to universal laws or human feelings.