|Epiphyte Book Review||up to review index|
by P.C. Hodgell
Seeker's Mask, the third book in the series that began with God Stalk and Dark of the Moon, is finally out (hooray!), and it's great.
Major, major spoilers follow--you've been warned!
A review of this book is probably not particularly useful. It's being published as an expensive limited series from a small press. For you sufferers, I'm including a plot summary, so be warned: spoilers, spoilers, spoilers!
God Stalk is the story of how Jamethiel Talissen came to the god-ridden city of Tai-tastigon with an infected arm, a sullen Book, and no memory of the past several years. Upon recovering from the infection, she joins the Thieves Guild, and proceeds to pull the Guild, the Temple District, and a good chunk of Tai-tastigon down around her ears, despite the best of intentions.
Dark of the Moon carries Jame and her Kendar friend Marcarn across the Ebonbane mountain range down to the Riverland in search of her twin brother Torisen, who's changed a bit since she last saw him--he's now about 10 years older than she, and Highlord of the Kencyrath. Chapters about Jame alternate with chapters about Tori, and naturally they come together just in time for the scene of a climactic battle and the implosion of a close relation.
As Seeker's Mask begins, Jame has spent an uneasy season in Gothregor, her brother's keep, trying to adjust to the cloistered world of Highborn Kencyr women. Just when she's fed up with masks, tight skirts, and needlepoint, a number of invisible assassins show up to finish the job they bungled 34 years ago of killing all the Knorth women. She dispatches most of them with the help of a Master Rune and her half- deceased half-brother Bane, accidentally reducing the high council chamber to glass-littered rubble. Her brother's significant other, the daughter of the powerful rival house Caineron, slashes Jame's cheek open, so to avoid plunging the Kencyrath into civil war or being force- healed by a despised priest, Jame takes off for Restormir, the Caineron stronghold, to rescue her bondsman, Graykin.
(In the meantime, Torisen goes slightly mad from lack of sleep, fear of his sister, and the influence of his dead father Ganth. [Ganth was always several fries short of a Happy Meal.] He rides off toward Gothregor, possibly to kill Jame, with Grimly Wolver in pursuit.)
Jame runs into Kindrie, who's escaping the tender mercies of the priesthood and Jame's old enemy Ishtier. The two of them cross the river with the help of an unusually mobile willow tree and eventually end up near Wilden, where Rawneth, the Randir matriarch, is summoning a demon to dispose of Jame. Instead of a demon, she gets Gorgo and Loogan, who say hi to Jame, have a light snack, and disappear back to Tai-tastigon. Jame and Kindrie, along with ten nearby Knorth randon soldiers, are rescued from a less cordial demon by a convenient patch of weirding mist that transports them straight to Restormir.
The lot of them penetrate Restormir to rescue Graykin, and Jame runs across Lyra, who is still ditsy but quite friendly, m'lord Caineron, who still isn't feeling quite in touch with things, and the Earth-Wife Mother Ragga, who is pretty annoyed at Jame for stealing her imu. As an earthquake shakes the tower to rubble, Jame, Kindrie, Graykin, and the randons escape down the river to Mount Alban, the scrollsmen's college, where they take refuge from the worst weirdingstrom in centuries.
(In the meantime, Tori and Grimly hole up in the Wolver Holt to wait out the storm.)
Mount Alban, at the moment, is no more stationary than the local trees, and Jame is swept along with the scrollsmen's college down the length of the Silver River by the plot devi--er, weirdingstrom, to the Southern Wastes, and then back up the river in shorter hops. In Hurlen, Graykin retrieves the Book Bound in Pale Leather, and Jame unsuccessfully searches for the imu in the Heart of the Woods. In Wilden, she rescues Kindrie from the priests (again), has a venomous little chat with Ishtier, invites Bane along for the ride, and leaves the Priests' College collapsing into rubble.
(In the meantime, Tori and Grimly arrive in Gothregor by unusual means. Tori, who has regained a reasonably tight grip on reality, is Not Pleased to discover his sister gone with assassins possibly on her trail, so he rides off to Mount Alban to find her.)
Mount Alban returns to its habitual foundations, but the middle of it-- which just happens to contain Jame at the time--keeps on moving, all the way up north to Kithorn, where she arrives just in time to play an unintentional part in a Merikit religious ceremony. Tori arrives just as Jame emerges from the ceremony, not exactly unscathed but at least with the favor of the elemental gods of the Merikit.
All in all, quite a busy week.
Needless to say, I expected to like this book (or I wouldn't have paid $60 for it), and I wasn't disappointed. Seeker's Mask has the intricate plotting and macabre humor of God Stalk, and after a somewhat slow start it maintains a breakneck pace. The Riverland lacks the grisly charm of Tai-tastigon, but it does gain depth and a sense of history. (Well, there are quite a few charming details. I loved the candied tadpoles and the raining frogs.) The supporting characters are drawn in depth and detail (even the dead ones), with underlying tensions and motivations of their own. And unlike Dark of the Moon, Seeker's Mask only has short interludes that deal with Torisen, who still hasn't worked up either the nerve or the interest to ask Jame where she's been for the past decade or so. (Which is probably just as well.)
As usual, honor is a central theme: at what point does personal honor eclipse obedience? Destruction is, of course, another. I think Hurlen is the only city or keep in the entire series to be visited by Jame without suffering major structural damage. (Of course, the climactic battle in Dark of the Moon on Hurlen's outskirts was pretty destructive.) Mount Alban wasn't badly damaged, but it certainly wasn't all in one place much of the time after Jame arrived.
Most of the plot threads are tied up by the conclusion, some more messily than others. Typically, Jame manages to prevent the loss of the Riverland completely by accident and without realizing it until several days later. A few loose ends are set up for the future: Bane guarding the Objects of Power with only a multitude of bugs for company, Ashe's on-going testing to see if Jame is a true tyr-ridan, Jame's new status among the Merikit, and a certain albino rathorn that's lurking in the woods around Gothregor. And presumably there's going to be a final showdown with Ishtier--after all, we have it on pretty good authority that she will yet be his doom. I want the next book, and I want it *now*.
If you haven't read God Stalk, give it a try: it's a very original, very intricate fantasy where the smallest gesture often has far-reaching (and disastrous) consequences. It's currently out of print, so scour your local used bookstore, or check with your library. (Almost every library in America seems to have a copy of God Stalk.)
If you're already a rabid fan of the series, Seeker's Mask is worth the wait. Hopefully, the series will get picked up by a major publisher, and we won't have to wait so long for the next one.
-- Christina Schulman.
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