E-book review: The Chronicles of the Kencyrath is fun, dark fantasy
May 26, 2014 | 2:22 pm
If you’re looking for something interesting to read, I’m going to talk about an underappreciated, inexpensive series of e-books from Baen that I’ve grown to love. It’s called the Chronicles of the Kencyrath, and the first book, God Stalk, was written by Patricia C. Hodgell back in 1982. Go and buy and read it right now, links are at the bottom of this post.
You want me to tell you more about it? What, don’t you trust me?
Well, all right. I first came across God Stalk back in the late ‘90s, as one of the top-ranking books recommended to me by Alexandria Digital Literature’s recommender. Curious, I snagged the book, and was hooked.
God Stalk is a fun “low fantasy” adventure, patterned after Fritz Lieber’s Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser books. We meet Jame, a young woman with partial amnesia who stumbles out of the hills with an infected wound and finds a home in an inn in Tai-Tastigon, a mysterious city where it seems as if there are more gods than people. She isn’t there long at all before she gets caught up in the doings of the local thieves’ guild, and the politics of who runs the city. And in the meanwhile, there’s the curious question of just where all these gods come from, and exactly what they’re good for.
But Jame’s adventures in Tai-Tastigon are only the beginning. After this “low fantasy” beginning, the series changes gears into a “high fantasy” epic. In Dark of the Moon, she sets out to find her people, the Kencyrath. The Kencyrath are a tribe of three different races who first found their way onto the world of Rathillien three thousand years ago, setting off a whole host of catastrophic events—not the least of which is an invasion by the corrupting force Perimal Darkling, which has eaten the last several worlds the Kencyrath have occupied and has designs on this one.
In Seeker’s Mask, Jame has found her people, but neither she nor they are quite sure what to make of each other—in part because Jame has proven to be blessed (or cursed) with supernatural shanir talents, and a link to the destructive aspect of the Kencyr’s three-faced god. There’s also the ancient mystery of who killed all the women of Jame’s house a generation ago to try to solve, and more deities with whom to reckon. And it goes on from there. The most recent book just came out, and it’s every bit as good as the rest of it has been.
P.C. Hodgell is a master of world-building. Like Tolkien, you always get the sense there’s so much more to this world just outside the borders of what you see. There are so many different vibrant cultures, each fleshed out enough to seem real. Strange flora and fauna inhabit the world, adding another layer of intrigue—you never quite know what you’re going to encounter next. And another point of similarity to Tolkien is that Hodgell also draws her own maps.
The books are a brilliant blend of humor, fantasy, and horror. Sometimes they can be dark, but the darkness is balanced out by a brand of wry humor that can at times be nothing short of hilarious. It reminds me of the same juxtaposition you’d often find in the fantasy works of the late Roger Zelazny.
The series hasn’t had the best of luck with publishers over the years. The books went nine years between the second and third book coming out, then twelve years between the third and fourth, because the publishers kept folding—most recently Meisha Merlin, whose closing also affected my other Alexlit favorites, the Liaden Universe by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller—and Hodgell had to find a new publisher to put out each successive work. Happily, Baen picked up her series along with Lee & Miller’s in 2008, and it’s been cranking out new books every couple of years.
The series has seven novels so far out of a planned nine, plus a collected volume of short stories (Blood and Ivory) and a couple more short stories posted free on Baen’s web site. The first four books are collected in two omnibus volumes for $7 each, which makes the series even less expensive to get into.
Here are some links to where the stories can be had. If you buy them from Baen, you can download them in multiple formats and more money goes to the publisher (and presumably author); if you buy from Amazon you get the benefits of automatic download into your Kindle and Amazon’s “Whispersync” that keeps your reading position saved among multiple devices. Either way, like all Baen titles, the books are completely DRM-free, so you can convert them and back them up into whatever format you like.
Check out the free short stories, at the least. If you like what you read, try out the first book. And if you like those, please leave some reviews on Amazon and other such places. The books don’t have all that many reviews yet, and I’d like to see them get more. I want to be sure this series keeps selling well enough to be finished.
If you’re interested, I also interviewed P.C. Hodgell on my old podcast, The Biblio File. Anyway, hope you enjoy these books!
|#1-2||The God Stalker Chronicles||$6.99||$6.87|
|#5||Bound in Blood||$6.99||$6.99|
|#7||The Sea of Time||$8.99||$8.99|
|Blood and Ivory||$5.00||n/a|
|“The Talisman’s Trinket”||Free||n/a|
|“Songs of Waste and Wood”||Free||n/a|