It's so annoying: weather has been absolutely perfect this weekend: I was going to do SO MUCH gardening! And instead, I have basically been asleep for 2 days and nights.
I awoke briefly to read Barbara Hambly's 'Sisters of the Raven'. It was a readable and entertaining 'I have got a cold' book. The setting is a group of vaguely-Arabic seeming cities set beside a lake - very well described, all dyes and spices and markets and camels. Full of atmosphere: 10/10 on that front.
The premise is that magic used to be FOR MEN ONLY, but for some reason that nobody understands, all the MEN ONLY magic has suddenly been turned off, and instead there is this new brand of WOMEN ONLY magic appearing instead. Oh yes, and the yearly rains failed to turn up, so there's a water crisis, and all the wizards are looking for drugs and other creepy mechanisms to get their mojo back.
There was a fat king with a peacock-feather fan, I liked him, and I quite liked his awesome concubine, the 'Summer Concubine' although her character is basically being good at everything. And clever. And nice... There was also a very sympathetically written old mad lady with an imaginary pig. She was great. But I was less keen on the slightly irritating standard-issue female-apprentice-in-a-world-of-men, whose characterisation struck me as a bit erratic.
Trying to pin down why the switch from MEN ONLY to WOMEN ONLY magic seemed a little contrived, I worked out that I'm a bit weirded out by the idea that an external world-influencing force would be so binary. I mean, yes, a lot of cultures have very wide divides between the sexes in terms of role and expectation. But here was a system where an ability is *exclusively* male and then *exclusively* female. Apparently magic checks what is in your pants? Or does some sort of chromasome test? In which case I can't help feeling that the contents of some chromasomes (and indeed pants) might confuse no end.
Contrast the Earthsea magic system, where magic is sort of accessible to magic users of both sexes, but it's only men that have developed a system for concentrating it, and that system is screened and protected by cultural preference and training, not by pure biology. That makes more sense to me. Though mind you comparing Hambly to Le Guin is probably a bit unfair.