Barbara Hambly

This article is about the American author. For the British field hockey player, see Barbara Hambly (field hockey).
Barbara Hambly
Born (1951-08-28) August 28, 1951
San Diego, California, U.S.
Pen name Barbara Hamilton
Occupation Novelist, short story author, screenwriter
Genre Science fiction, fantasy, horror, mystery, historical fiction

Barbara Hambly (born August 28, 1951) is an American novelist and screenwriter within the genres of fantasy, science fiction, mystery, and historical fiction. She has a bestselling mystery series featuring a free man of color, a musician and physician, in New Orleans in the antebellum years. She also wrote a novel about Mary Todd Lincoln.

Her science fiction novels occur within an explicit multiverse, as well as within previously existing settings (notably as established by Star Trek and Star Wars).

Early life and education

Hambly was born in San Diego, California and grew up in Montclair, California. Her parents, Edward Everett Hambly Sr. and Florence Moraski Hambly, are from a coal-mining town in eastern Pennsylvania. She has an older sister, Mary Ann Sanders, and a younger brother, Edward Everett Hambly Jr. In her early teens, after reading J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, she affixed images of dragons to her bedroom door. She became interested in costumery from an early age, and has been a long-time participant in Society for Creative Anachronism activities. In the mid-1960s, the Hambly family spent a year in Australia.

Hambly has a Masters in Medieval History from the University of California, Riverside. She completed her degree in 1975 and spending a year in Bordeaux as part of her studies.


She chose work that allowed her time to write;[1] all of her novels contain a biography paragraph with a litany of jobs: high school teacher, model, waitress, technical editor, all-night liquor store clerk, and Shotokan karate instructor. Her first published novel was Time of the Dark (1982).

Hambly served as President of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America from 1994 to 1996. Her works have been nominated for many awards in the fantasy and horror fiction categories, winning a Locus Award for Best Horror Novel Those Who Hunt the Night (1989) (released in the UK as Immortal Blood) and the Lord Ruthven Award for fiction for its sequel, Travelling With the Dead (1996).[2]

Marriage and personal life

Hambly was married for some years to George Alec Effinger, a science fiction writer. He died in 2002. She lives in Los Angeles. Hambly speaks freely of suffering from seasonal affective disorder, which was undiagnosed for years.[3]

Themes within fantasy

Hambly's work has several themes. She has a penchant for unusual characters within the fantasy genre, such as the menopausal witch and reluctant scholar-lord in the Winterlands trilogy, or the philologist secret service agent in the vampire novels.[4]

Her writing is filled with rich descriptions and actors whose actions bear consequences for both their lives and relationships, suffusing her series with a sense of loss and regret.[3] Hambly's characters suffer the pain of frustrated aspirations to a degree that is uncommon in most fantasy novels.[5]

Though using many standard clichés and plot devices of the fantasy genre, her works explore the ethical implications of the consequences of these devices, and what their effect is for the characters, were they real people. In avoiding the "...easy consolatory self-identification of genre fantasy"[5] (p. 449) and refusing to let her work be guided more explicitly by conventions and the desires of her audience, Hambly may have missed out on more remunerative success and acclaim.[5]

Although magic exists in many of her settings, it is not used as an easy solution but follows rules and takes energy from the wizards. The unusual settings are generally rationalized as alternative universes.

Hambly heavily researches her settings, either in person or through books, frequently drawing upon her degree in medieval history for background and depth.[6]


Benjamin January mysteries

This historical mystery series begins with A Free Man of Color (1997) and features Benjamin January, a brilliant, classically educated, free colored surgeon and musician living in New Orleans during the antebellum years of the 1830s. At the time, New Orleans had a large and prosperous population of free people of color. Born a slave, as his mother was enslaved, January was freed as a young child by his mother's lover, under the plaçage system. Provided with an excellent education, he gained fluency in several classical and modern languages, and was thoroughly versed in the whole of classical Western learning and arts. He studied medicine in Paris, where he trained as a surgeon. He returned to Louisiana to escape the memory of his late wife, a woman from North Africa. As a free black in Louisiana, he cannot find work as a surgeon. He earns a modest living by his exceptional talent as a musician.

Each title is a murder mystery, with a complex plot and well-developed characters. Each explores many aspects of French Creole and overall Louisiana society. Most tend to emphasize some particular element of antebellum Louisiana life, such as Voodoo religion (Graveyard Dust), opera and music (Die Upon a Kiss), the annual epidemics of yellow fever and malaria (Fever Season), fear of miscegenation (Dead and Buried), or the harsh nature of commercial sugar production by enslaved labor (Sold Down the River).

Important themes of the series are 1) the cultural clash between the rising Protestant English-speaking Anglo-Americans, and the declining Catholic, French-speaking Creoles, 2) skin color discrimination within the society of Creoles of color, with favor given to lighter-skinned persons 3) January's bitterness at the many forms of racial injustice he observes, 4) the complex, partially race-based sexual politics of colonial French and United States society, and 5) January's comparison of what he thinks of as the open and frank African outlook of his early childhood with the more restrained and rational European worldview he acquired through education and experience. This last theme occurs most often with respect to music, spirituality, and respect for law and social custom.

Short stories

Historical fiction

Abigail Adams Mysteries (written as Barbara Hamilton)

Sherlock Holmes short story pastiches

Anne Steelyard: The Garden of Emptiness


The Darwath Trilogy

Darwath novels

Sun Wolf and Starhawk


The Windrose Chronicles

Star Trek Universe

James Asher, Vampire Novels

Beauty and the Beast


Star Wars Universe

Raven Sisters

Standalone works


External links

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