P.C. Hodgell – Seeker’s Mask

Although having published her first book 30 years ago, P.C. Hodgell has only published half a dozen of fantasy novels. All those novels are part of the God Stalker Chronicles. The first two books were published in the early eighties. The third was published almost 10 years later. This one, Seeker’s Mask (1994), is the first one I’ve read of the series.

Seeker’s Mask starts off not very long after the end of the second novel, Dark Of The Moon. Possibly because of the large time gap between the two novels, the beginning contains a lot of reminiscences of earlier events, probably to bring the reader up to date with what has happened before, before the story really starts. A bit too much in my opinion, because it means that I will wait some time longer before picking up any of the earlier novels so that I will have forgotten most of it by that time. Of course some things are unavoidable as the earlier events still play a role later on. Nevertheless it wouldn’t have hurt (for me at least) to leave out unnecessary details and keep certain things mysterious.

The slow introduction luckily doesn’t last long and before long events speed up in which Hodgell discloses the strange world in which the story is set. Hodgell steers far away from any clich├ęs and mainstream fantasy. While some elements seem familiar for the experienced reader, it are the odd details and twists which makes this a refreshing and original read. The female protagonist can be seen as a feminist, independent, pro-active with a strong willpower who tries to make her own way in a world which doesn’t want to let her be. Thanks to the two previous novels she has already coped with a lot, providing with a fully developed character. During the reading I could feel that Hodgell was very confident with her main character, enjoying to write about her.

Hodgell throws the main character through all kinds of hectic situations, allowing the reader to explore the character and develop her at the same time. The side characters mainly play a minor role, with the females showing strong against weaker men, while it is supposedly a male-dominated world.

The plot in itself is not very complicated. However Hodgell tells it with many odd twists and there was not a moment that I was able to predict what was going to happen next. I haven’t had that for quite some time and although it can also point at poor plotting in this case the plotting was solid enough, as the strangely behaving world was how it is supposed to and part of the setting, to make me enjoy reading this greatly.

So is there something besides the introductory beginning which I can complain about? The only serious weakness of this novel is the dialogue. It is a bit too simplistic everyday easygoing style with repetitive commonplace phrases. At times she manages to do better when the scene uses more formal speech. In my opinion characters should only use certain peculiar speech to reflect their character. If there is none then one should aim for using the words that have reflect the intent of the dialogue best and give it a greater effect. Hodgell is lacking on this part, although it is not that bad that it annoys.

What kind of fantasy this is, is hard to say. It has some old-fashioned style to it. It is high fantasy with some epic tendencies, while Hodgell keeps a fair balance between a character and plot-driven story. Although there are a few other viewpoints at times, Hodgell sticks mainly to her main character to tell the story. The story itself has some lighter and darker moments. Overall Hodgell sticks to the middle of the road. There is some nastiness, but not very much, while avoiding strong sexuality or violence.

In the end I was quite surprised with this novel. I enjoyed it greatly. It gave me something new and it proves (again) that there are still many undiscovered old gems in fantasy literature which stay clear from the mainstream bulk. It’s a good thing I have the next novel already at hand to continue. Highly recommended.

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