Review of Dark of the Moon by P.C. Hodgell
Dark of the Moon
by P.C. Hodgell
I read God Stalk and Dark of the Moon as part of the omnibus The Godstalker Chronicles. However, I’m reviewing them separately because they are separate novels with standalone—but connected—arcs. They work well as an omnibus edition, because the latter picks up almost immediately following on from the former. Whereas I had a great deal of difficulty with God Stalk, however, I found this one slightly more tolerable.
To be honest, about fifty pages into Dark of the Moon, I started flipping through the remainder of the book to try and get a sense of whether things got more interesting or—crucially—more intelligible. I was having the same problem I encountered in God Stalk: every few pages, suddenly I would find that I had no idea how whatever was happening had happened. Who was this random new character? Why was Jame suddenly halfway across Rathillien? Cue several minutes of backtracking while muttering under my breath.
Obviously, I was having trouble concentrating on the story. And this is after deciding that this book is actually easier to follow than God Stalk, although on the whole it’s probably more boring. Jame and her new Kendar companion Marc wander across Rathillien to meet up with the Kencyr Host and the Highlord, Torisen, who is probably Jame’s twin brother. Meanwhile, Hodgell also relates events happening with the Host from Torisen’s point of view. It’s politics, and it provides a very interesting glimpse into the culture of the Kencyr. Unfortunately, it drags in comparison to Jame’s portion of the narrative, which comes with some substantial action.
As with the first book, I can see why Dark of the Moon earns praise. Jame’s label of anti-hero is more obvious here than it is in the first book: her struggles with a darker side to her abilities are far more overt. And we get to see a lot more of the Kencyr and learn about their culture. With Tai-tastigon out of the way, the landscape returns to the safer footing of a stalk fantasy world. On the surface this might seem disappointing, but by playing in a familiar sandbox, Hodgell saves on the reader’s cognitive capacity, freeing up more to spend on things like Kencyr culture. I think part of my problem with God Stalk was that I spent so much energy attempting to grok Tai-tastigon that any notions about following the plot were fanciful at best.
And again, I don’t like having to express my dissatisfaction with this book, because I want to like it and praise it. Hodgell’s storytelling has a nice spark of originality to it. There is some interesting potential in the contrast between Jame’s character and the typical gender performance of a Highborn lady. But these two books have reminded me of the intense subjectiveness of the reading experience. It doesn’t matter how much I try to notice and mention objective features of merit—when it comes down to it, on a gut level, this book just didn’t click for me.
There is no way to rationalize it or explain it away. Dark of the Moon is marginally more tolerable than God Stalk but not a huge improvement. I don’t regret sticking out the entire book, but I’m not in a hurry to continue with the series. I suspect I’ll be setting myself up for more disappointment if I do.