The Knight of the Demon Queen
by Barbara Hambly (HarperCollins Voyager, £5.99, 263 pages, paperback; published 2 May 2000; ISBN 0-00-648373-9.)
I was lucky enough to review Barbara Hambly's last book, Dragonshadow so when Knight of the Demon Queen was released I jumped at the chance to take a look at it.
The classic case of a fool rushing in or a brilliant leap of faith?
The Knight of the Demon Queen takes up where Dragonshadow left off. Despite narrowly triumphing over the demons in the earlier book, John Aversin, thane of the Winterlands, and his family remain mired in the grim consequences of their triumph.
Like reformed alcoholics, his son Ian and wife Jenny, freed of their demon possessors, are taking one day at a time, bearing not only the guilt of the dreadful acts performed using their bodies, but also the teasing desire to allow the demons to return to them again. Another hangover of the final conflict is Jenny's loss of her hard-earned magic, leaving her feeling devalued, angry and depressed.
John's troubles are even further from being over, however, as the Demon Queen Aohila blackmails a wearied John once more into her service, a (of course!) quest across a seemingly endless variety of Hells with only a treacherous lower demon to "help" him.
This is a very different book to Dragonshadow, which at least had the occasional burst of joy or love in it. Knight of the Demon Queen begins in mourning, progresses to hopelessness via regret and ends in despair. It's the most relentlessly downbeat book I've read since Jude The Obscure.
Barbara Hambly's prose is as superb as ever it was, brilliantly chronicling the bitterness and isolation the protagonists are experiencing. It does falter slightly in the middle sections of the book, when John somehow finds himself in the world of Pohl and Kornbluth's classic The Space Merchants.
The sylvan richness of Hambly's writing when in John's homeland of The Realm doesn't translate as well to this urban hell - somehow the magic is gone.
I'd really really hate to miss out on the next part of the saga, but I didn't enjoy Knight of the Demon Queen as much as Dragonshadow simply because it's so utterly (understandably, but utterly) miserable in tone.
Review by Stuart Carter.
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© Stuart Carter 3 June 2000