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Review: “A Free Man of Color” by Barbara Hambly

A Free Man of Color (Benjamin January, #1)A Free Man of Color by Barbara Hambly

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I always enjoy Barbara Hambly’s work, and I’ll certainly read more of this series. The setting is richly detailed and convincingly rendered, in a way that supports the story rather than distracting from it. It’s also a real mystery, and a fair one — the clues are there if you’re not too carried away by the narrative to stop and look for them.

The time at which it’s set is an interesting one — after the Louisiana purchase, the dreaded Americans and their money and their projects are coming into town and upsetting the social order. Everything’s changing, mostly not in a good way — though they were far from perfect before.

The precarious situation of the “free colored” in this environment is an important part of the tension that carries the story forward. Most people January meets basically have the ability to destroy his life at a whim, and he can’t even count on the slaves to have his back. There’s a nuanced social order, a caste system ranging from black slaves at the low end through free colored, then women, with an ongoing struggle at the top between the Creole and American (men, of course).

For those who enjoy mysteries and speculative fiction: though set in the US, this is largely an alien culture. It’s not like what you know.

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