I've been in love for Barbara Hambly for years - make that decades, I just looked at the publishing date on my bought-brand-new-in-a-local-store-when-my-town-had-a-bookstore.
It was 1982.
That book was Time of the Dark and to say I haunted the store for the next book in the series is an understatement.
Here's the back cover blurb (it's a long one):
Night after night, Gil found herself dreaming of an impossible city where alien horrors swarmed from underground lairs of darkness to destroy mankind and all the works of men. But when the wizard Ingold Inglorian crossed the Void to ask sanctuary for the last Prince of Dar, she learned her dreams had been true visions of a strange reality.
On Ingold's world, the monstrous Dark had been mere legends for 3,000 years. But now, for unknown reasons, they were ravening savagely across the land and there was no escape from their foul powers and insatiable hungers.
Attempting to help Ingold, Gil and Rudy, a young drifter, were drawn into the nightmare world of the Dark. There they had to remain - unless they could solve the mystery of the Dark.
Then, before they could realize their fate, the Dark struck!
Okay, we all know I suck at reviews, so may I just say this is a book I highly recommend. The fact that it's over 20 years old doesn't detract from it in the slightest.
It's not exactly a romance, although there are romantic elements, one of them completely unexpected. I must warn you though, that the character arcs and the resolution of the danger of the Dark takes three books: Time of the Dark, The Walls of Air and Keep of Dare.
Hambly is a brilliant writer and a great storyteller. The reader is there in the places she describes, freezing to death with the characters, experiencing what they experience. I think this might have been the first fantasy I read after the Ring trilogy, and it impressed the hell out of me. It's not high fantasy, but it's much easier reading than the Rings and it's much easier to relate to the characters.
Gil is from our world, a student of medieval history. She's not beautiful. She's skinny and brusque and generally distrustful, but she trusts Ingold.
This is a section from when Ingold tells Gil and Rudy he can't take them back to their world at this time:
"Not for some months," the wizard said.
Her breath leaked out again, the slow release of it easing nothing. "Okay." she rose to go.
His hand closed over her wrist like a snake striking. "Sit down," he said softly. She tried to pull her arm away without replying, but his hand was very strong. "Please." She turned back, cold and angry; then looking down she saw something in his blue eyes that she'd never expected to see - that he was hurt by her anger. It shook her to the heart. "Please, Gil."
She stood apart fromn him for a moment, drawn back to the length of her arm. His fingers were locked around her wrist as if he feared that if he released her, he might never see her again. And maybe, Gil thought, he'd be right. She saw again the vision of her delirium: warm, bright images of some other life, another world, friends and the scholarship she had hoped to make her life, distant from and guarded by some dark, terrible form that might have been the Dark and might have been Ingold; she saw projects, plans, research and relationships falling into a chasm of absence, beyond her power to repair. Rage filled her like dry,silent heat.
Behind her, Rudy said uneasily, "Months is a long time to play tag with the Dark, man."
"I'm sorry," Ingold said, but his eyes were on Gil.
Trembling with the effort, she let go of the rage. Without it to sustain her, all the tension left her body. Ingold drew her gently to sit on the bed beside him. She did not resist.
Rudy is an artist, one of those people on the outskirts of biker gangs, who customs paints bikes and cars. He discovers a new talent after he crosses the Void, despite his refusal to believe in magic.
Hambly's wizards all have one core characteristic that forms their powers - curiosity. Curiosity about how things work, from mechanical to life forms to elements - wind, fire, earth, water. They're always studying something. It's a very believable philosophy.
The Dark are a unique and very worthy antagonist. We don't ever get to really understand them - except that they're dangerous to humans.
Time of the Dark has been rereleased as an ebook.
I hope that newer generations will discover her early works, which are all fantasy, and like them as much as I do.