Wednesday, August 13, 2014

God Stalk by P. C. Hodgell

I've just finished God Stalk by P. C. Hodgell. I've had it in the back of my mind since the vespid Fletcher Vredenburgh recommended it at Black Gate and on his blog. Then when I was at the county library the other day I saw it and checked it out.

It's a first-edition copy, published by Atheneum in 1982. Atheneum dropped Hodgell way back when but the book has since been republished by Baen, though unfortunately with the bursting mammary promise that typically graces their covers. I guess they know their readers' interests better than I do, but if I bought the book for its appearance I'd be sorely aggrieved to discover the heroine to be as unencumbered by superfluous flesh as any good thief must be.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. God Stalk is a city tale. It begins with the heroine's entrance upon ancient Tai-Tastigon, and ends with her departure. It even provides us with a schematic map. I like city tales. There's something somehow...well, I don't know if cozy is the right word, exactly, but I can't think of a better. The city is ancient and storied, with curious temples, high towers of oriental resplendence, sprawling ruins, demon-haunted back streets, and, naturally, a healthy thieves' guild. There's even an independent society inhabiting the city's rooftops. The story takes place over the course of a year, marked by the celebration of religious festivals.

Several little details leaped out at me, making me think of C. S. Lewis' list in An Experiment in Criticism. Here's a good one:
Apprehensively, she recited the charm. It usually took Cleppetty half an hour to ready her bread for the oven; Jame's rose in five minutes. When the widow sliced into the baked loaf, however, they discovered that its sudden expansion had been due to the growth of rudimentary internal organs.
That actually made me laugh with delight. There are many others, such as the Book Bound in Pale Leather (disgustingly warm to the touch, and subject to bruises when mishandled), or the Peacock Gloves (embroidered with threads "gleaned over a lifetime from the floor of the city's finest textile shop").

The cast of characters is varied and colorful, with some touches of Dickensian multiplicity and eccentricity, especially around the inn where Jame domiciles for the majority of the book. Hodgell explains on the dust jacket that she's a doctoral student in English, specializing in nineteenth-century literature. God Stalk "in many respects is a Victorian novel," she says. "Readers who have difficulty with the plot might bear this in mind." Hm, I can just imagine putting that in a query letter to a publisher! I suppose I can see what she means by it, though fortunately I have no objection to Victorian literature.

There's a mysterious, almost mythical backstory in God Stalk which I assume gets further revealed in the sequels. I suspect there's more there than what I grasped the first time around, and I think the book would definitely stand a re-reading. Which is my criterion for whether a book is worth reading in the first place.

Hodgell has a website with some biographical information. Her publication history has been difficult, to say the least, with her first publisher dropping her, her second going out of business, and her third going bankrupt while still owing her five years' worth of back pay. Now the series is being put out by Baen. Wikipedia tells me that she taught English at the university but retired in 2006 to pursue writing full-time. She's seems a bit rueful about her academic career, to which I can certainly relate, but also stubbornly intent on getting her work out, which I find inspiring.

Hodgell's website also has pictures of some of her art (stained glass, embroidery, paintings, etc.). Her embroidery is really fine, with a couple of pieces seemingly inspired by Beardsley's illustrations to Malory, and one by Georgia O'Keefe. There's also a few nice paintings illustrating her writing.

I enjoyed God Stalk and will definitely return to it. The county library also has Dark of the Moon, the second in the series (published in 1985), so I suppose I'll move on to that one sometime soon.


  1. Thank you for the link and I'm glad you enjoyed God Stalk. I meant to comment on your earlier post, "Alone With Alone." Sometimes I'm almost startled by the openness of some of your posts. Reading similar posts in the past are what made me a regular reader of this site. And, for what it's worth, you can assume I'll read a copy of your book as well.

    1. Thanks. You can be the tenth person! BTW, I've got a 10K-word straight-up adventure fantasy coming down the pipe at BCS, which I hope you'll enjoy. I've no idea when it'll come out yet.