The Godstalker Chronicles by P. C. Hodgell This is a re-read, but from long enough ago that I never wrote it up. God Stalker Chronicles is an omnibus of the first two volumes in the Chronicles of the Kencyrath, God Stalker and Dark Of the Moon.
Many thousands of years ago, the three-faced god (Torrigion, that which creates, Argentiel, that which preserves, and Regonereth, that which destroys) gathered together the three peoples (Arrin-Ken, Kendar and Highborn) and made them into the Kencyrath, to be its weapon against the ancient chaos, Perimal Darkling, which had broken into the Chain of Creation, a long grouping of parallel worlds, and was threatening to destroy all. The god then almost immediately abandoned the Kencyrath, and they have been fighting a rearguard action down the Chain of Creation for 30 000 years.
3 000 years ago, the Highlord of the Kencyrath, one Gerridon, turned traitor and gave himself and his followers to Perimal Darkling in exchange for immortality. He got his sister/wife (they were twins; highborn Kencyr twins of opposite genders are often married to each other. It’s a bloodline thing) Jamethiel to dance the souls of the Kencyr war-host out of their bodies (for what purpose we eventually learn) and the survivors fled into the next world, putting up a barrier between them and the darkness. That world, Rathillien, is where these novels are set.
God Stalker opens with Jame (1) coming down out of the northern hills to the city of Tai-Tastigon. She’s injured, she’s being stalked by haunts(2) (one of whom bit her, causing the injury in question) and she has no idea where she has been for the last several years. She doesn’t even know how many years it has been. She was kicked out of her home hold by her father because she is a Shanir, which is a kind of mutant with magickal powers. Only highborn Kencyr can be Shanir, which is too bad because some Highborn really, really hate and fear the Shanir. Jame’s father was one of them. When she returned to the keep a few nights ago, her father was dead. As, indeed, was everyone else; the keep had been raided by forces unknown. Snatching some important artifacts, she flees south, seeking the one member of her family whose corpse she was not able to find: her twin brother, Torri. She doesn’t know where she was while she was gone; she doesn’t even know how long she was gone.
Tai-Tastigon, she learns, is an odd place. Laid out in a maze, it is haunted by gods–every god in the East has a temple there and some who have become “untempled” and died return each year on the Feast of the Dead Gods. For a monotheistic kencyr, this is baffling. Even though there is a Kencyr temple in the centre of the city . . . In her spare time, Jame sets out to investigate the matter.
Not that she has a lot of spare time. She is adopted by the friendly, slightly odd crew at the inn called the Res AB’Tyrr, which is caught up in an undeclared trade war with the inn across the square (trade wars in Tai-Tastigon have a lot in common with actual wars) and that involves a lot of politics. She also joins the Thieves Guild, the largest trade organisation in the city, as the first Kencyr thief (or is she?) and that involves a lot of politics too. She learns a lot about Rathillien’s theology. She kills at least one god, and one priest. She befriends a homeless Kendar named Marcarn, Marc for short, and becomes psychically linked to a blind Ounce (hunting cat). She winds up fighting for her very soul against the mysterious Shadow Thief, which may in fact be a demon.
I do not think it will spoil anything to say that she has to flee the city, leaving chaos in her wake. It’s kind of a trend in her life.
In The Dark of the Moon she and Marc (and the cat) head south, to join the main Kencyr population. This is complicated by a number of factors, including pursuit from the Tai-Tastigon area. Another complication is that her brother, Torri (Torrisen) has gotten himself appointed High Lord of the Kencyrath, and through the book is forced to deal not only with normal politics, but the need to take the Kencyr host south to battle the Horde, the most biggest threat to Rathillien outside of Perimal Darkling (and they may actually be connected to it). It seems that Jame was missing for about ten years, and we learn where she was and what she was doing there. It will complicate things, politically, that she is now ten years younger than her twin brother.
Jame is, IMHO, a great character. She has a lot of depths that she is discovering at the same time we are. I like that she’s a fighter, both mentally and physically. I like that she’s a skeptic in a world of obvious religions (she goes about her investigations scientifically). Rathillien is a fascinating world, not exactly western european and in many ways totally alien (the carnivorous, armoured unicorns are a great touch). I like that we get the epic battle-stuff out of the way in the second book and then go off and be domestic/political for a while. I recommend this whole series, but I’m gonna start by Highly recommending this book.
(1) I am not sure how Jame is supposed to be pronounced. It explicitly is not “Jamie”, as we later meet a character who calls her that and the change in spelling is notable. On the other hand, I can’t get my mind to say “J-ay-m”; and with Jamethiel (mentioned above) I am clearly hearing a short a (J-ah-meth-eeahl).
(2) Haunts appear to be zombies, though they are self-aware and can talk.