Stranger at the Wedding by Barbara Hambly. ★★★1/2
Stranger at the Wedding is a female led second world fantasy novel that I enjoyed but am unlikely to ever feel the urge to read again.
In the world of Stranger at the Wedding, wizards are feared and legislated against. The only protection is to join the Citadel, home of academically minded wizards who vow not to take part in the affairs of ordinary people. Kya is studying for her exams at the Citadel when she becomes aware of strange portents in her magic. She eventually figures out that her sister Alix is going to die on her wedding night.
To save her sister, Kya has to venture back to the home that disowned her and do some meddling, putting her at risk from the Inquisition.
For the most part, the book is structured like it’s a mystery. Who’s trying to kill Alix? Unfortunately this doesn’t work well because information necessary to guess the killer is being held back. The pacing also slows down in some sections because of this.
I liked the world building and thought it was well realized. The descriptions of the city really helped it come alive and give it a sense of place. The world was undergoing industrial revolution, which was a nice touch and made it something different than the standard “medieval Europe” fantasy. That element probably stood out the most. While everything else was well realized, it didn’t feel particularly unique.
I liked Kyra as a protagonist, but I never really loved her. For whatever reason, I just never felt a strong emotional connection to her. However, I did like how she wasn’t the only sympathetic female character. Alix easily could have been written as the mean pretty girl or the dumb blond, but instead she was kind and smart in her own way.
The romance wasn’t great, but it wasn’t horrible either. I could tolerate it. For the most part, it just felt very predictable and sudden. The heroine clumsily trips and falls into the arms of a nearby man? Hmm, I wonder who’s the love interest? What’s annoying is this “trips and falls into his arms” gag is used numerous times. Although to be fair, she did fall flat on her face at other sections of the book too.