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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An exciting read, 3 Sep 2003
By A Customer
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This review is from: Wet Grave (Hardcover)
This is one of the Benjamin January series but with a difference as the characters travel away and begin to explore Rose's past.
As ever there are a wealth of details about the past and what slavery really means and Barbara Hambly explores the effect that this has on people and the decisions they do and can make about their lives. The characters are strong enough to rise above the setting and the plot is well realised and exciting. There are some thrilling scenes, especially with the local wildlife !!
barbara Hambly makes it seem effortless but this is a well plotted and well structured book and the resolution will delight fans of this series.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Swimmin' through the Bayous, 28 Nov 2005
David Roy (Vancouver, BC) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Wet Grave (Mass Market Paperback)
I have been a big fan of the Benjamin January series, written by Barbara Hambly, ever since the beginning. I've been anxiously awaiting Wet Grave since I had heard Hambly was working on it. At long last, I finally managed to get my hands on it. It was definitely worth the wait. The book had both wonderful atmosphere and a very interesting plot. Definitely one of Hambly's best.
Wet Grave continues Hambly's string of wonderfully atmospheric books. That is actually the main character in these January novels: the atmosphere. Hambly uses vivid descriptions to completely set the scene. You feel like you're in a really hot New Orleans in the middle of a sweltering summer. You can almost feel the heat coming off of the page. I love how she sets the scene even as actions are happening. Ben and Rose may be walking down the street, discussing things and eating Italian ices, but Hambly will spend a paragraph or two describing the people and conditions around them. You don't so much read this book as experience it. If this sort of thing bothers you, then you should probably skip this one.
The pace is leisurely. When a book is badly written, that can be a detriment, as nothing seems to happen. However, when it's as masterfully done as it is here, you don't seem to notice. This isn't to say that there isn't a sense of drive to the narrative, because there is. It's just that the pace allows the reader to absorb everything. The only place that the pace drags is during the climax, when Hambly's penchant for description sometimes takes away from the action, making it drag to a halt periodically. She should have toned it down a bit in the end, but I will gladly take this over a book that has a slam-bang climax but isn't interesting the rest of the time.
The characters are another strength of this novel. Some of the characters who have populated previous novels aren't in this one very much, like Olympe, or Ben's mother. In fact, fans of Hannibal, Ben's longtime musician friend, will be disappointed to find out that he's not in this one at all. However, this provides Hambly the opportunity to really explore Ben's relationship with Rose, as well as the character of Abishag Shaw, the head of the city's police. Rose is a school teacher friend of Ben's who he loves. She has been extremely tentative with Ben because she has an intense fear of men, having been raped a few years ago. Ben has been very patient with her, though, throughout the series. In Wet Grave, things finally begin to change. Rose is a wonderful character, and really brings the book to life. She has a wonderful sense of humour, as well as a dedication that makes her very endearing. The relationship between these two characters is simply wonderful to see, and you find yourself rooting for them.
Abishag Shaw, however, has to be the best character Hambly has created. He's a Kentuckian who has moved down to New Orleans. He's one of the few white people who actually will listen to somebody of colour. He's a man who Ben considers a friend and a man of honour. He's genuinely sorry that he can't help Ben with investigating Hesione's death, as he knows he has to instead investigate the murder of a plantation owner. If he doesn't, he wouldn't have a position any more. He's visibly torn about this, however. When circumstances conspire to bring them together, however, Shaw trusts Ben to watch his back like no other white man would. I think he sees a bit of a kindred spirit, as the French Creoles in New Orleans treat him almost as badly as they treat people of colour. Hambly writes Shaw's character with a very deft touch that makes him very interesting to read about. He really comes into his own in this book, as much of the action at the end concerns him and Ben, showcasing their relationship.
Finally, one of the most interesting things about this series of books is the way it portrays race relations in this time period. Ben is a free man, but he always has to carry his papers with him that declare this. If he's out in the bayous and a plantation owner kidnaps him to work in his fields, there's nothing he could really do about it. The relationships between Creoles and Americans, freed coloureds and slaves and white people, and the various other aspects of New Orleans society are vividly portrayed by Hambly, almost like a history lesson. Ben's sister Dominique is a "kept" woman, a mistress of a plantation owner, as so many other free coloured women (such as Ben's mother) did in order to get by. It's a very fascinating study of a culture. It's very interesting to see who looks down on whom, who is "too black" to fit into a certain social class, that sort of thing.
This book is an intriguing mystery, but it's so much more than that. The characters are fascinating, the atmosphere is wonderful and it's a joy to read. You will lose yourself in this book. It took me just as long to read this book (286 pages) as it did to read Harry Turtledove's last book (500 pages). To me, that shows the depth and richness that Hambly provides. I heartily recommend this book, but to experience the best that this series has to offer, you should almost start at the beginning. There's certainly no need to, as it's perfectly understandable on its own. However, the series is so rich that it deserves to be read in order.
David Roy
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Wet Grave
Wet Grave by Barbara Hambly (Mass Market Paperback - 31 May 2003)
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