Barbara Hambly’s Windrose Chronicles, like her earlier Darwath trilogy (1982-1983) and Sun-Cross sequence (1991-1992), is structured around the idea of parallel universes. As an interesting twist, science and magic both work to navigate between these parallel worlds, and the laws of physics appear to be universal. Magic in the Windrose Chronicles is similar to that in her Sun Wolf series (beginning in 1984). Both worlds are populated predominantly by people unable to work magic and a small percentage, referred to as mageborn, who can. Wizards can be of either sex, but in both series there are derisive comments about superficially trained wizards being “witches” or practicing “granny magic” that suggest a sexist orientation against female practitioners, at least in the past.
Hambly’s Windrose books are an interesting and intelligent blend of high fantasy and scientific realism. Eschewing the pseudo-medieval setting common to much of high fantasy, Hambly’s Empire of Ferryth is on the cusp of an industrial revolution. Flax mills run by water power employ young women and children in a sickeningly familiar manner, steam power is in the experimental stages, and applied knowledge of electrical power is in its infant stages. A repressive church has been campaigning against a black-clad, ghetto-dwelling religious group called the Old Believers who still worship a pantheon of older gods.
To receive full training, the mageborn must swear themselves to the academic Council of Wizards, who have pledged not to interfere, for good or ill,...
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