This is a fantasy novel set in a highly original world which seems to draw on Egyptian and Middle Eastern culture, but I don't know enough myself about the real cultures to know just how much is borrowed and rearranged and how much is completely invented. Still, Hambly creates a thoroughly believable world with a self-consistent and credible culture. It examines what could happen in a culture based on real magic might react to a crisis where the mages' powers failed, and also looks at the role of women in society in general through the lens of a culture that treats its women about as badly as any present day culture. The treatment of women in this imagined culture is horrible to me, but Hambly neither dwells on it to preach about it, or glosses over it; it is presented matter-of-factly as the way this world works, and it's pretty much up to the reader to fill in the thoughts and feelings of how it's wrong.
Interesting characters with surprising depths and a good, engaging plot, leading to a reasonable conclusion that wasn't quite where I expected; the novel is well concluded but there is ample room for a sequel, which has in fact been written. Magic is handled well in the story, giving enough detail to make it seem realistic without falling into the trap of saying so much that it stops being sensible.
9 out of 10.