Birthday Reviews: P.C. Hodgell’s “Knot and the Dragon”

Friday, March 16th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Tom Wood

Cover by Tom Wood

P.C. (Patricia Christine) Hodgell was born on March 16, 1951. She has written the eight volume Chronicles of the Kencyrath, which began with God Stalk and continued most recently with The Gates of Tagmeth in 2017. God Stalk was nominated for the Mythopoeic Award as was its follow-up, Dark of the Moon.

“Knot and the Dragon” was originally published in Esther Friesner’s Chicks and Balances, the most recent addition to her long-running Chicks in Chainmail series. The story has not been reprinted.

One of the common tropes in fairy tales is the step-daughter whose father has died, leaving her with an unloving mother. Hodgell uses this set up for “Knot and the Dragon,” with Knot living with her step-mother, Marta, and her two step-sisters. Everyone in town makes it clear to Knot that she doesn’t fit in with them.

Knot’s character comes across as a mixture of a Cinderella-type mixed with Belle from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, for Knot is constantly striving to learn more about the world in which she finds herself, lamenting the death of her father, with whom she had things in common, but also accepting her current life.

Reports of nearby dragon attacks further bring out the town’s character, with the villagers firm in their belief that since they haven’t done anything wrong, there is no reason the dragon would punish them. Naturally enough, this conviction is enough (narratively) to bring a dragon down on their village, and they decide that Knot should essentially be a sacrifice to the dragon.

Rather than do as she was instructed, Knot seeks out the witch who lives nearby ever since she was forced from her home by the dragon. Although the witch’s first inclination is to flee with her son, who was accidentally turned into a pig during her last encounter with the dragon, the witch agrees to offer (dubious) help to Knot.

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New Treasures: The Gates of Tagmeth by P. C. Hodgell

Monday, October 2nd, 2017 | Posted by John ONeill

The Gates of Tagmeth-smallFletcher Vredenburgh has been steadily reviewing P. C. Hodgell’s Chronicles of the Kencyrath series here at Black Gate. In his article on the opening volume, God Stalk, Fletcher wrote:

Out of the haunted north comes Jame the Kencyr to Rathilien’s greatest city, Tai-Tastigon. From the hills above, the city appears strangely dark and silent. She arrives at its gates with large gaps in her memory and cat claws instead of fingernails. She’s carrying a pack full of strange artifacts, including a ring still on its owner’s finger… and she’s been bitten by a zombie. Wary, but in desperate need of a place to heal, Jame enters the city. So begins God Stalk, the first book in P.C. Hodgell’s Kencyrath series and one of my absolute, bar none, don’t-bother-me-if-you-see-me-reading-it, favorite fantasy novels…

I’m so grateful Carl gave me this book thirty years ago. P.C. Hodgell seems so far below the general fantasy radar, I don’t know if I would have ever heard of her at all, which is pretty darn shameful.

You can read his compete review here.

Fletcher wrapped up with volume 7, The Sea of Time, back in December, writing,

Now I, and every other fan of Hodgell’s, will have to wait nearly a year for the next volume, The Gates of Tagmeth… It’s taken over thirty years to get to this point, so I guess I can wait another eight months.

The Gates of Tagmeth arrived in trade paperback from Baen right on time on August 1st. I’m looking forward to Fletcher’s review, but you can get the jump on him by ordering a copy today. Here’s the description.

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Last of a Series… For Now: The Sea of Time by P.C. Hodgell

Tuesday, December 13th, 2016 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

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Baen finally does right by Jame and Hodgell

Earlier this year I promised myself I would finally finish all the volumes in P.C. Hodgell’s Kencyrath series so far. I did that yesterday, with my completion of The Sea of Time (2014). I’m really enjoying the series and book 7 is a blast. Regular readers will be shocked to read my one complaint: it’s too short. Before I explain that, let me fill you in on the book and tell you all about its good points.

First, one more time, the setup:

Thirty thousand years ago, Perimal Darkling began to devour the series of parallel universes called the Chain of Creation. To fight against it, the Three-Faced God forged three separate races into one: feline-like Arrin-Ken to serve as judges; heavily-muscled Kendar to serve as soldiers and craftsmen; fine-featured humanoid Highborn to rule them. For 27,000 years, the Kencyrath fought a losing battle, one universe after another falling to the darkness. Three thousand years ago, the High Lord Gerridon, fearful of death, betrayed his people to Perimal Darkling in exchange for immortality. Fleeing yet again, the Kencyrath landed on the world of Rathilien. Since then, they haven’t heard from their god and Perimal Darkling has seemed satisfied to lurk at the edges of their new home. Monotheists trapped on an alien world with many gods, the Kencyrath have had to struggle to make a life on Rathilien.

Now, the power of the Three-Faced God seems to be reappearing. The Kencyrath believe that only the Tyr-ridan, three Highborn reflecting the three aspects of their god — destroyer, preserver, and creator — will be able to defeat Perimal Darkling. Jame, raised in the heart of Perimal Darkling, is fated to be the Regonereth: That-Which-Destroys.

At the end of the previous book, Honor’s Paradox, series heroine, Jame, had survived all the tests and trials thrown at her by the curriculum and her enemies at the Kencyrath military academy, and was promoted to second year cadet.  The Sea of Time opens with Jame arriving at the Southern Host. The Host is the main force of Kencyrath soldiers, hired out to the wealthy city of Kothifir.

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Last Term: Honor’s Paradox by P.C. Hodgell

Tuesday, November 8th, 2016 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

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Another tawdry Caldwell cover

Can you tell I really like P.C. Hodgell’s Kencyrath series? Not once have I followed up a review of an author’s book with a review of her next one. And in three weeks I’ll review the next one as well. In between there’ll be a short story roundup and then, provided the Canadian mail runs well, Chris Carlsen’s Shadow of the Wolf.

Last week, I wrote that Bound in Blood (2010) was essentially a story where just a bunch of stuff happens to Hodgell’s cat-clawed heroine, Jame. That’s pretty much the feel in Honor’s Paradox (2011) as well, but this time there’s more apparent purpose. The story is told in Hodgell’s usual mix of the funny, the tragic, and the sublime. One final time, the setting is the Kencyrath military school, the randon academy.

Again, the setup:

Thirty thousand years ago, Perimal Darkling began to devour the series of parallel universes called the Chain of Creation. To fight against it, the Three-Faced God forged three separate races into one: feline-like Arrin-Ken to serve as judges; heavily-muscled Kendar to serve as soldiers and craftsmen; fine-featured humanoid Highborn to rule them. For 27,000 years, the Kencyrath fought a losing battle, one universe after another falling to the darkness. Three thousand years ago, the High Lord Gerridon, fearful of death, betrayed his people to Perimal Darkling in exchange for immortality. Fleeing yet again, the Kencyrath landed on the world of Rathilien. Since then, they haven’t heard from their god and Perimal Darkling has seemed satisfied to lurk at the edges of their new home. Monotheists trapped on an alien world with many gods, the Kencyrath have had to struggle to make a life on Rathilien.

Now, the power of the Three-Faced God seems to be reappearing. The Kencyrath believe that only the Tyr-ridan, three Highborn reflecting the three aspects of their god — destroyer, preserver, and creator — will be able to defeat Perimal Darkling. Jame, raised in the heart of Perimal Darkling, is fated to be the Regonereth, That-Which-Destroys.

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Another Term: Bound in Blood by P.C. Hodgell

Tuesday, November 1st, 2016 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

oie_13432gaur4x7bWith Bound in Blood (2010), P.C. Hodgell continues to blow me away with her talent for telling tales. It’s the fifth book in the Kencyrath series, and the second one about our heroine Jame’s time at military school, the randon academy at Tentir. It’s not the most compelling novel so far. In fact, it’s more of a collection of stuff that happens to Jame or stuff she does. That the book manages to hold a reader from cover to cover proves just how good Hodgell is.

First, the mandatory recap:

Thirty thousand years ago, Perimal Darkling began to devour the series of parallel universes called the Chain of Creation. To fight against it, the Three-Faced God forged three separate races into one: feline-like Arrin-Ken to serve as judges; heavily-muscled Kendar to serve as soldiers and craftsmen; fine-featured humanoid Highborn to rule them. For 27,000 years, the Kencyrath fought a losing battle; one universe after another falling to the darkness. Three thousand years ago, the High Lord Gerridon, fearful of death, betrayed his people to Perimal Darkling in exchange for immortality. Fleeing yet again, the Kencyrath landed on the world of Rathilien. Since then, they haven’t heard from their god, and Perimal Darkling has seemed satisfied to lurk at the edges of their new home. Monotheists trapped on an alien world with many gods, the Kencyrath have had to struggle to make a life on Rathilien.

Now, the power of the Three-Faced God seems to be reappearing. The Kencyrath believe that only the Tyr-ridan, three Highborn reflecting the three aspects of their god — destroyer, preserver, and creator — will be able to defeat Perimal Darkling. Jame, raised in the heart of Perimal Darkling, is fated to be the Regonereth, That-Which-Destroys.

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To Ride a Rathorn by P. C. Hodgell

Tuesday, July 12th, 2016 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

oie_11225225XvvToolIt’s taken me two years, but I’ve finally returned to P. C. Hodgell’s Kencyrath Cycle, with the fourth book, To Ride a Rathorn. A rathorn is a deadly, carnivorous, horned, horse-like animal covered in heavy plates of ivory. For the Kencyrath, to ride a rathorn is to try to do something insane, and our heroine Jame is about to do just that. She has accepted her destiny as a crucial element of the final showdown with Perimal Darkling, a world-devouring force of chaos and evil. At the same time, several forces are arrayed against her: the enemies of her family, the weight of millennia of traditions, and terrible agents of utter darkness. Instead of just crawling away and hiding, Jame has decided to take on all comers, and figuratively — and perhaps literally — ride a rathorn.

Four books in, to say the series is complicated is like saying the sun is hot or the oceans wet. Hodgell has created one of the densest and tremendously detailed fantasy settings, and to even look at this book without having read its predecessors just might make a reader’s brain explode. But as I often ask: have you taken my advice and read the other books yet? Because you should have by now. To get a better understanding of what’s gone on before, you can read my reviews of the first three — God Stalk, Dark of the Moon, and Seeker’s Mask — right here at Black Gate. If you don’t have time, though, here’s a relatively brief synopsis:

Thirty thousand years ago, Perimal Darkling began to devour the series of parallel universes called the Chain of Creation. To fight against it, the Three-Faced God forged three separate races into one; feline-like Arrin-Ken to serve as judges, the heavily muscled Kendar to serve as soldiers and craftsmen, and the fine-featured humanoid Highborn to rule them. For 27,000 years, the Kencyrath fought a losing battle, one universe after another falling to the darkness. Three thousand years ago, the High Lord Gerridon, fearful of death, betrayed his people to Perimal Darkling in exchange for immortality. Fleeing yet again, the Kencyrath landed on the world of Rathilien. Since then, they haven’t heard from their god, and Perimal Darkling has seemed satisfied to lurk at the edges of their new home. Monotheists trapped on an alien world with many gods, the Kencyrath have had to struggle to find their own place and survive on Rathilien.

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Some Things Need to Be Broken: Seeker’s Mask by P.C. Hodgell

Tuesday, November 25th, 2014 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

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Cover by P.C. Hodgell

A friend once told me of his desire to see a movie with even more action than Die Hard. He envisioned a film with action from first frame to last. I bring this up because the third book of P.C. Hodgell’s Kencyrath series, Seeker’s Mask (1995) is one of the most fast moving, packed-to-the-gills-with-thrills books I have ever read. It may not be the all-action nirvana my friend hoped for, but it’s about as close as I’ve ever found.

It starts in the rules-smothered confines of the Women’s Halls, and then whips Hodgell’s heroine Jame up and down the world before ending in the middle of a barbarian tribe’s fiery ceremony. Invisible assassins, gods, malign magics, and trips into people’s minds smash up against one another for the reader’s attention. If all I did was list the events in Seeker’s Mask, this article would be twice as long as I want it to be.

Jame is a Highborn of the Kencyrath, one of three species molded into one race by their god to fight against Perimal Darkling. The Highborn are the rulers and priests and the fewest in number. The most numerous species, the Kendar, are the soldiers and craftsmen. Finally there are the leonine Arrin-Ken, who served as the race’s judges until frustration led them to leave Kencyrath society in order to decide what needed to be done next in the war against Perimal.

Thousands of years ago, the High Lord Gerridon betrayed his people to Perimal Darkling in exchange for immortality. Two-thirds of the Kencyrath were killed and the survivors fled to the world of Rathilien.

In the previous book, Dark of the Moon (1985), Jame had reunited, after a decade of separation, with her twin brother, Torisen, Lord of the House of Knorth, and High Lord of all the Kencyrath. He and the Kencyrath armies had just emerged victorious from a great battle against the Waster Horde (read the review here). As the only other known member of the House of Knorth, Jame’s sudden appearance throws political calculations out of whack.

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New Treasures: Seeker’s Bane by P.C. Hodgell

Sunday, July 20th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Seeker's Bane-smallSometimes it’s handy being editor of Black Gate. For one thing, it sure keeps you in-the-know on great books. I was editing Fletcher Vredenburgh’s enthusiastic review of P. C. Hodgell’s God Stalk last October, which begins thusly:

Out of the haunted north comes Jame the Kencyr to Rathilien’s greatest city, Tai-Tastigon. From the hills above, the city appears strangely dark and silent. She arrives at its gates with large gaps in her memory and cat claws instead of fingernails. She’s carrying a pack full of strange artifacts, including a ring still on its owner’s finger… and she’s been bitten by a zombie. Wary, but in desperate need of a place to heal, Jame enters the city. So begins God Stalk, the first book in P.C. Hodgell’s Kencyrath series and one of my absolute, bar none, don’t-bother-me-if-you-see-me-reading-it, favorite fantasy novels…

I’m so grateful Carl gave me this book thirty years ago. P.C. Hodgell seems so far below the general fantasy radar, I don’t know if I would have ever heard of her at all, which is pretty darn shameful.

Ha, I thought smugly, looking at my bookcase. Maybe she’s below the radar for most folks, but I’ve got my copy right here. Fletcher continued:

Following God Stalk came the 1985 sequel, Dark of the Moon… It’s taken nearly thirty years for the next four books to appear: Seeker’s MaskTo Ride a RathornBound in Blood, and Honor’s Paradox.

Wait, what? There are sequels? Like, five sequels? How did I not know? Are they out of print? Gahhh!

Fortunately, Baen Books to the rescue. Baen has collected the first four novels in two handsome mass market paperbacks: The God Stalker Chronicles (January 2010) and Seeker’s Bane (August 2010), both still in print. They’re a great way to get started on this terrific series, which Hodgell and Baen are continuing — I note the seventh volume, The Sea of Time, was just published last month. I just bought Seeker’s Bane and it’s a fabulous bargain: 1168 pages, priced at $7.99 in paperback and $6.99 for the digital version. The covers are by Clyde Caldwell. Check ’em out.


Dark of the Moon by P. C. Hodgell

Wednesday, June 25th, 2014 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

“Just once, why can’t we have a simple crisis?”

Jame from Dark of the Moon

oie_21182141KKAZmv94P. C. Hodgell’s Dark of the Moon (1985), a swift-paced dual narrative of twins Jame and Tori Knorth, is the sequel to her awesomely-amazing-why-haven’t-you-read-it-yet first novel, God Stalk (see my Black Gate review here). Jame, heroine of the first book, is racing into the west to find her brother while Tori, High Lord of the Kencyrath, is racing south to bring his army to bear on a threat that could destroy the world.

Hodgell wrote God Stalk as an introduction for her heroine Jame and to be sure she could write a full-length novel. To ease readers into the complex and madly elaborate world of Rathilien, she set it in the deliberately Leiberesque city of Tai-Tastigon. Like Leiber’s S&S, Hodgell’s moves easily from the grim to the funny and back without dissonance in an intimately scaled, fantastical urban playground.

But Hodgell had already planned a story of vaster scope about Jame and the Kencyrath which is only hinted at in God Stalk. The Kencyrath were bound to their god in order to fight Perimal Darkness, the embodiment of evil and chaos, and had been waging that battle for millennia. The war and the consequential flight of the Kencyrath to the world of Rathilien is always lurking beneath the surface of the story, but it’s never the driving force, the focus being on Jame’s adventures and efforts to understand the true nature of the world’s gods.

With Dark of the Moon, Hodgell and Jame leap out of the familiar shallows of Tai-Tastigon and its plethora of cults, sects, and secret societies, into the depths of full-blown epic fantasy. The ages-long struggle against Perimal Darkness moves to center stage and Jame emerges as possibly the most important figure in the war.

I’ve read that some fans of God Stalk were put off by the epic scale of Jame’s new adventure. I admit that in 1985, when I first read DotM, I was a little disappointed when I realized that Tai-tastigon was fading behind her, but within a few pages Hodgell had me hooked. High in a snowy mountain pass, Jame and her companions are confronted by something like a nasty pack of wolverines, a shapechanging enemy out of legend, and wonderfully miscast magic. This book charges into motion and never lets up. This is my fifth or sixth reread of this book and it thrills every time.

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God Stalk by P. C. Hodgell

Tuesday, October 15th, 2013 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

God Stalk P. C. Hodgell-smallOut of the haunted north comes Jame the Kencyr to Rathilien’s greatest city, Tai-Tastigon. From the hills above, the city appears strangely dark and silent. She arrives at its gates with large gaps in her memory and cat claws instead of fingernails. She’s carrying a pack full of strange artifacts, including a ring still on its owner’s finger… and she’s been bitten by a zombie. Wary, but in desperate need of a place to heal, Jame enters the city. So begins God Stalk, the first book in P.C. Hodgell’s Kencyrath series and one of my absolute, bar none, don’t-bother-me-if-you-see-me-reading-it, favorite fantasy novels.

When this book first came out in paperback in 1983, my friend Carl bought it at the original NYC Forbidden Planet on 13th Street. Raving about it, he tossed it to me. Then I passed it to someone else. By the time it finished its circuit through the rest of my friends and back to its original owner, its cover was bent, stained, and more than a little torn. I’ve gone through several copies myself over the years, having lost or upgraded it multiple times. When I reread it this past week, I was excited that I enjoyed it as much as, if not more than, I had in the past. I’m so grateful Carl gave me this book thirty years ago. P.C. Hodgell seems so far below the general fantasy radar, I don’t know if I would have ever heard of her at all, which is pretty darn shameful.

The Kencyr are a group of three races sworn to the service of the Three-Faced God and bound together by him to fight Perimal Darkness, a warping force of chaos and evil sweeping over the planes of existence. The rulers of the Kencyr are the human-looking High Born, of which Jame is one. The warriors and artisans are the Kendar, still human-looking but larger and longer-lived. Finally, there are the giant catlike Arrin-Ken, the judges.

As Jame remembers bits and pieces of her missing life, an eons-old struggle against the Darkness is revealed to the reader. The Kencyr fled to Rathilien three thousand years ago after betrayal at the highest level almost led to their extinction. Jame may have an important place in the war and among her people, though every answer leads to another question, some not answered until much later in the series.

The history of the Kencyr and their endless war are really only the background for God Stalk. This novel centers on Jame’s adventures during a year in Tai-Tastigon. From the night of her arrival during the Feast of the Dead Gods, her residency in the great city is one of constant action and intrigue.  She has entanglements with bandits, thieves, innkeepers, and deities. It’s a dangerous place, but also enticing.

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