(cover from Amazon.com)
P.C. Hodgell's Kencyrath fantasy series began in 1982 with God Stalk, a bizarre, imaginative, unique work that reminded me, somehow, of very early, classic fantasy novels I used to read many years ago. I loved it.
Well, my biggest problem with modern fantasy is how imitative so much of it is. Unlike science fiction, where an author might actually have to know something, all you apparently need in fantasy is an imagination. But all too many fantasy authors seem to lack even that.
Unfortunately, Hodgell hasn't been very prolific (it probably hasn't helped that two of her publishers have gone out of business). The fifth book in the series, Bound in Blood, was just published, four years after the previous installment and a full 28 years since the first book. Before reading it, I had to re-read the previous book, To Ride a Rathorn, just to remember the characters and the other details of this complex story. Since that's still my favorite of the series, though, I can't really say that it was a chore.
God Stalk introduced us to Jame, a young girl chased by the dead and missing years of memories, as she arrives in Tai-tastigon, a strange city of multiple gods, a powerful thieves guild, and caring people. As I say, it was a great book, in an imaginative setting. (Oddly enough, we never see Tai-tastigon again after this book. The other books are imaginative, but maybe not quite this imaginative.)
In Dark of the Moon (1985), Jame leaves the city in search of her twin brother, Tori. The book alternates chapters between their individual points of view, which is also the format of the rest of the series. I have to admit that waiting for their meeting, at the very end of the book, got a bit old. It feels like Jame spends a long time traveling. The ending was very good, though.
Seeker's Mask, the next in the series, was finally published in 1994 (after I'd pretty much given up hope of a sequel). Jame has been placed in the Women's Halls, where she's being taught traditional obedience, which doesn't go at all well. She escapes after an attack by assassins and spends the book getting involved in a variety of adventures, ending in a giant weirdingstorm. All lots of fun.
Then I had to wait even longer, until 2006, for To Ride a Rathorn, which is, as I say, my favorite of the bunch. Having demonstrated that the Women's Halls were not at all suitable for her, Jame becomes a cadet at Tentir, the randon college, the first highborn woman to be admitted. She's unprepared, and almost no one wants her there, but she's determined to succeed (and to discover what happened to her father when he was a cadet). It's great fun.
So, after all this, I have to admit that Bound in Blood was a disappointment. It starts immediately where To Ride a Rathorn ended, and it seems like just a continuation of that story. It's much shorter than the previous novel, but that's not really a problem (it's still 300 pages long). The problem is that nothing new happens. Jame just continues at the randon college, as before.
Bound in Blood is an entertaining read, but what's the point of this book? If the author doesn't have anything new to say, I've got to see any new series book as just an economic proposition, a way to make a few bucks from established fans. And this is the kind of series which is clearly heading towards some kind of conclusion. After 28 years, can I be excused for wondering when (or even if) that might actually happen?
If you're a fan of the series, you'll want to read this one. But don't expect too much. It's easily the weakest of the series (not because the writing is bad, but just because there's nothing new happening). If you're not familiar with P.C. Hodgell, you can't start here. Find God Stalk, which has been republished at least three times in omnibus editions (Chronicles of the Kencyrath in 1987, Dark of the Gods in 2000, and The God Stalker Chronicles in 2009).