Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Book Review: God Stalk

Book Review: 'God Stalk' by P. C. Hodgell
4 / 5 Stars

‘God Stalk’ (284 pp) first was published in hardcover in 1982; this Berkley Books paperback was released in August, 1983. The artist who created the striking cover is uncredited. 

It was the first novel by author Patricia Christine Hodgell, who followed with a number of sequels. These constitute the so-called ‘Chronicles of the Kencyrath’, which has reached 8 volumes as of 2017.

‘God Stalk’ features a young woman named Jame as its heroine; as the novel opens, Jame –suffering from amnesia, and pursued by vengeful beings – is stumbling across the northern wastelands, seeking shelter of any kind. She finds it in the crowded and chaotic streets of the city of Tai-Tastigon, where a horde of gods and godlings are worshipped by a bewildering variety of sects, many at odds with one another and engaged in perpetual feuds and commercial rivalries.

As Jame becomes familiar with the labyrinthine streets and neighborhoods of Tai-Tastigon, she decides to take advantage of an offer from one Master Penari of the Thieves’ Guild: become his apprentice, and a member of the Guild.

This in turn leads to an unfolding series of adventures as Jame, determined to prove herself, decides to steal some of the most precious- and closely guarded – treasures of Tai-Tastigon. The price for failure is steep: perpetrators are likely to be flayed alive and left to rot on the bench of the Mercy Seat at Judgment Square

But Jame has advantages that she is only gradually coming to terms with: her nature as the member of the Kencyrath, a race gifted with superhuman abilities, yet cursed with a history of betrayal at the hands of its three-faced god.

As Jame makes her way through the increasingly roiled streets of Tai-Tastigon, her heritage and her membership in the Guild both will merge to bring revelations about the world and her place in it ……….. but these revelations may not be as benign as she has been led to believe……….

At the time ‘God Stalk’ was published, ‘adult fantasy’ was just beginning to make its impact felt in bookstores, and the shelf space at Waldenbooks, B. Dalton, and Barnes and Noble devoted to the genre was a fraction of what it is nowadays. That said, ‘God Stalk’ was something new and imaginative. It was not a re-imagining of Tolkein, and lacked elves, dwarves, wizards, dragons, Dark Lords, and all the paraphernalia that then defined 'fantasy' writing. There isn’t even a Quest in ‘God Stalk’. Magic exists, but is an occasional indulgence on the part of a gifted few.

I would argue that ‘God Stalk’ is one of the foundational novels for the sub-genre now known as ‘Dark Fantasy’. Hodgell’s city of Tai-Tastigon is as much a character as the individuals peopling its pages and certainly prefigures the cityscape of New Crobuzon in the 2000 novel ‘Perdido Street Station’ by China Mieville.

‘God Stalk’ shares similarities with the works of M. John Harrison, as it possesses the darker, morally ambiguous flavor that permeates his novels and short stories about Viriconium.

The novel isn’t perfect; the closing chapters have something of a rushed quality and the plot revelations disclosed in these chapters have a contrived, often confusing nature. But 'God Stalk' is a solid four-star novel, and a book that stands the test of time as a standout fantasy novel for the decade of the 80s.

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