The previous two novels by P.C. Hodgell that I read I gave high recommendations. It is always exciting to discover older less known works that turn out to be great reads. Thirty years ago started to write her first fantasy novels of the so-called God Stalk series and while there were many years between the the publications of the following novels she has now picked up the pace to bring her story to a conclusion. However, we are far from there yet as Hodgell takes her time to develop the story.
Bound In Blood (2010) is the fifth novel in the series, pretty much picking up where To Ride A Rathorn ended. The story is set in a world of limited size where the nature of the land is influenced by supernatural powers. Hodgell uses this to great effect as the characters always have to be ready for sudden changes in their circumstances. I mention this here because Hodgell makes less use of it in Bound In Blood, perhaps because she used it so much in the previous two novels. This does result in a story that isn’t much influenced by strange events and has a more regular feeling to it.
A major difference from the previous two books is that the main character doesn’t start in a new situation where she has to learn and adapt to her new environment, with all the conflicts and clashes that comes with it. Instead she has found a temporary place for her own. This as she is at a military academy. The downside of this is that it is a familiar setting where Hodgell has to add the typical tropes to give it some substance. As positions are established since the previous novel there isn’t changing that much. Of course things do happen and it is nowhere boring. It is just that the plot lacks substantial development. Maybe I am wrong in my assessment that this novel can be considered a middle book. Hodgell has some minor plot threads she wants to resolve or develop while there are no major events. It lacks a beginning and an ending. Nevertheless the story remains very entertaining and unpredictable. Either way this might mean that Hodgell will start with the next phase of the story in the next book, although I cannot be certain. Hodgell follows her own pace and makes sure she writes everything she wants to tell about. It is well balanced, written in an easy writing style. Even though this “middle” novel doesn’t have the impact of the previous novels, it is still quite good and much better than the average fantasy novel.
What I haven’t addressed before is the plot complexity. This is no easy story to read as many factors come into play and one has no idea how important each element is. The plot itself does however not have that many layers. The main character is in the center of events and although there is a multitude of elements interacting with her, they do revolve around her. With that depth is created and it is complex on its own, while much outside her environment seems to develop on a lower scale. One could say that there are layers with the odd aspect that they are mainly concentrated around one character which makes the reader feel as if the general story is not as complex as it seems. Is it an optical illusion or will it all fall into place eventually? It are these aspects which make me enjoy these novels so much.
Of the three novels of the series I have now read (the first two are on my pile, awaiting the appropriate time to be picked up), this is the “weakest”. Still it is no easy feat to have two superb novels follow with another one when one doesn’t follow a specific format and focuses on one main character. Hodgell doesn’t seem to aim for a certain number of novels. She will write as many as she needs, which is much easier to do these days as publisher don’t focus on the trilogy format, but allow authors to continue a good series as long as they like, as there is more certainty that readers will keep buying them. I am certainly not complaining.