Mar 18 2012 12:00pm

The Romance in Barbara Hambly’s The Silent Tower

The Silent Tower by Barbara HamblyThe wizard Antryg Windrose’s first appearance is in Barbara Hambly’s fantasy novel The Silent Tower (1986), the gripping opener to one of my favorite trilogies (really more of a duology with a sequel, but who’s counting?). The Silent Tower shows the beginning of a heartbreakingly intense romance between Antryg and Joanna Sheraton, a computer programmer from our world.

Joanna is kidnapped into the fantasy world (the Empire of Ferryth) where most of the story takes place.  For the entire novel, she’s unsure if she can trust Antryg, and he’s unsure if he can trust her; this leads to a cliffhanger ending that isn’t resolved until book two, The Silicon Mage.

(One side note before I go further: since this novel was published in 1986, the computer-related parts of the story are a little dated, in places enough to seem silly. Do not let that stop you!  The rest of the story can more than overcome a few reminiscent giggles.)

One of the reasons I like Antryg so much is that he is full of contradiction.  The Archmage has this to say of him:

“…he is, beyond a doubt, the most powerful mage now living… for the past seven years he has been a prisoner in the Silent Tower, whose very stones are spelled against the working of magic… his mind is like a murky and bottomless well, into which all the wisdom of the ages and all the accumulated trivia of several universes have been indiscriminately dumped…and by this time, I fear, quite mad.”

Joanna is a skilled computer programmer, but she lacks self-confidence. 

She might, she knew, be the sort of mousy little woman men never went out with, sealed like an anchoress in a chapel with a pile of books, computers, and cats…. 

However little she thinks of her own abilities, though, Joanna repeatedly comes up to scratch when things get dangerous.  Her strength is logical thinking, breaking problems down into subroutines; her weakness is that she can doubt her own gut feelings, particularly when it comes to men.  What I love most about her is that she carries an immense, ugly purse full of useful items like flashlights and hammers, all very useful when adventuring!

Antryg is not your typical handsome, muscular hero.  (That role is taken by the third main character, the warrior Caris).

Tall, thin, no longer young, Antryg Windrose had a beaky face in which all the individual features seemed slightly too large for the delicate bone structure, surrounded by a loose mane of graying brown hair and a straggly beard like frost-shot weeds that had been trailed in ink. Crystal earrings glinted in it like the snagged fragments of broken stars; half a dozen necklaces of cheap glass beads flashed tawdrily over the open collars of an assortment of ragged, scarecrow robes and a faded shirt. Behind the thick spectacle lenses, his wide gray eyes were bright, singularly gentle, and not sane.

Antryg and Joanna easily find common ground as together they flee the Witchfinders across country.  I think it’s notable that they seem to be equally intelligent, one learned in magic and the other in logic and technology; these two never lack topics of mutual interest.  Even though Joanna’s logical mind believes Antryg is the man who kidnapped her from her own world, she confides in him.  This is completely unlike how she behaves with her nominal boyfriend back on Earth, Gary.  Joanna and Antryg might be from different universes, but they share similar moral values.

Antryg had a voracious interest in everything and anything and was, for all his talkativeness, a good listener. Joanna had never been at ease with men; but as they walked along the highroad that ran above the marsh, she found herself telling him, not only about computers and soap operas and the Los Angeles freeway system, but about her mother, Ruth, the cats, and Gary.

…“[Gary] probably just thought he was being funny.”

“I’m sure he did,” the wizard said... “And that is the worst thing which can be said about him.”

It was, but it surprised her a little that anyone, particularly any man, would see it as she did.

Their shared opinions make it all the more painful when Joanna, towards the end of the novel, must decide whether to trust what Antryg has told her versus what she’s been told by a trusted outsider, when the outsider’s explanations make more logical sense.  In the end, her feelings for Antryg lose out, because neither of them is able to fully let go and trust the other.

Their gazes locked; in his she saw the struggle of fear and trust, unwilling love, and the knowledge that he should not, must not, give to her more than he had.

The Silicon Mage by Barbara HamblyJoanna realizes, far too late, that she’s been wrong about Antryg, and wrong not to trust her instincts. It’s not until The Silicon Mage that, through Joanna’s determined march into danger, that they are reunited, and are able to forge their relationship anew, more strongly. The Silicon Mage also features a secondary romance for Caris.

I’ve mostly gone on about the characters, but those who are fans of historical romance might also enjoy the worldbuilding in these books.  The Empire of Ferryth has some similarities to Georgian England such as men in makeup and the early stages of industrialization mingled with the magic and adventure.  Just make sure you have both books on hand when you start!


Victoria Janssen is the author of three novels and numerous short stories. Her latest novel is The Duke and The Pirate Queen; she has a World War One-set Spice Brief out in May titled “Under Her Uniform.” Follow her on Twitter:  @victoriajanssen or find out more at

Subscribe to this conversation (must be logged in):
1. pamelia
I just read these books a couple months ago. Great review. I loved them too although the first book was a little hard to sink into. I can only say that once the first third of the first book is read they fly and they are great and you realize just how important the set-up in the first pages was. I love romances that are about knowing someone and trusting someone and love stemming from that rather than a lust-based tear-off-the clothes route (not that there's anything wrong with those either!)
2. lisaione
I read these years ago and now I think they need a reread. I loved them the first time so thanks for putting them on my radar.
4. Kaye55
I have read her "Bride of the Rat-God" (admittedly for the title alone) and loved it, so will now have to glom these boks as well.

I love it when older books & authers get re-discovered, particularly in my case when newer publications just aren't hitting my sweet spot these days.
Victoria Janssen
5. VictoriaJanssen
@Kaye55, BRIDE OF THE RAT GOD is such fun! I loved the setting. I think you might like this trilogy as well. They have a similar feel.
Post a comment