The first thing you have to understand about Godstalk is that you are going to have to slow your reading pace. If you’re used to devouring fast-paced novels quickly you are going to miss things, probably all of the things. Hodgell’s writing is both very poetic and very dense. She seems to try to get the most impact out of the fewest number of words in her sentences. If you tend to read fast, this can lead to you missing important details.
Another aspect of her writing is that it is surprisingly whimsical and funny for a book that is basically about a slow entropic apocalypse! You’ll see a lot of references to the world dying, lots of throwaway lines about trade routes becoming fewer and cities and countries becoming cut off from each other and increasingly isolated. You already know that there is some kind of “Barrier,” and you’ll slowly learn that anything along the edge of that Barrier is pretty much Pet Sematary territory. Yet despite this background slow apocalypse, everyone seems to be trying to get along the best they can, and there is very little angst or grinding horror about the situation. This is a very strange combination that can only be stranger in a god-haunted city like Tai-tastigon.
Book I: Tatters of Dust Chapter Two The House of Luck-Bringers
Jame wakes up with a very large cat sitting on her chest. The cat’s name is Boo and she’s been taken in by an inn called the Res aB’tyrr, or The House of Luck-Bringers. A woman named Taniscent, who is the inn’s dancer, explains that Jame appeared very suddenly on the inn’s doorstep, scaring the guests half out of their mind since the innkeeper never locked his doors–as custom and common sense dictates–on the Feast of Dead Gods, which our Heroine very nearly ended up becoming! (A feast for a dead god, that is.) Taniscent explains that this is an annual holiday in which the gods who have lost their worshippers return in hopes of getting something to snack on. This is okay if their worshippers fed them begonias, but not so good if din din was a virgin’s liver.
The owners of the inn are a man named Tubain and his wife Abernia. The housekeeper and fount of common sense is a woman named Cleppetania (Cleppety for short.) Jame makes the acquaintance of the housekeeper after falling down the stairs. (Falling down the stairs and/or turning up singed, soaking wet or both will become something of a Theme for Our Heroine.) Jame learns a little more about the inn and environs including the fact that Taniscent is taking a drug called Dragon’s Blood which temporarily restores youth or at least its appearance. Its side-effect is premature aging, which means Taniscent is killing herself. Taniscent starting taking it when she was twenty because she was afraid she was losing her edge as a dancer. Now she’s taking it so she can be with her lover.
Jame recovers quickly over the next few days and tries to find a way out of the Eastern Lands. Unfortunately, she is greatly inhibited by mountain passes that are going to be closed until spring and shipping routes that are closed because of season. She also lacks money! Jame attempts pay for her room and board by helping around the inn. This has mixed results, particularly when Jame attempts to make bread and uses a charm intended to make the bread rise faster. The bread rises extremely quickly…due to the dough growing rudimentary organs.
Our Heroine also learns that there is a very hostile situation between the Res aB’tyrr and another inn called the Skyrrman. Jame is a little hurt that no one seems to trust her enough to explain what the situation is. Jame remembers having been an outsider most of her life, and this seems like one more instance of being rejected because of her differences. (One defining characteristic of Jame is that she desperately wants to be accepted and to belong to a group. Despite this, she occasionally gets extremely exasperated with others who are clearly trying too hard to be accepted and getting themselves in more trouble than they can handle.) Still, she goes along with it, because of Kencyr hospitality laws that state she has to go along with what her hosts ask of her. (Which somewhat conflicts with the rules that she defend her hosts, considering there’s some kind of animosity between the two inns and she’s been directed to not defend her hosts.)
We get some backstory about Jame and her claws! It seems that Jame was born without finger nails, which was odd enough. Then her claws budded and broke through the skin, which identified her as a “Shanir” or one of the Kencyr who have strange and mysterious powers connected to their Deity. (Note: Kencyr do not actually like their Deity very much so this is a very bad thing.) Shortly after her claws came in, Jame was thrown out of the keep by her father. Our Heroine has some PTSD about this incident and is extremely touchy about her claws. (As in, teasing her about them might result in her using them on you.)
Jame also learns that the job offer she received from Penari was an offer of apprenticeship to become a thief! Jame is horrified, and then very curious. She continues to room with Taniscent who is basically miserable because of having promised never to take Dragon’s Blood again. While Taniscent is moping and being a miserable roommate, Jame discovers that she knows the Senethar, which is a Kencyr martial art divided into elemental styles; wind blowing, fire leaping, water flowing, earth moving. (There is also a dance form called the Senetha. Chekov’s gun alert, by the way.)
During a shopping trip, Jame becomes better acquainted with the maze-like environs of the city. (Okay, it is not actually “maze-like.” This is a completely literal non-figurative maze we’re talking about here. Someone literally decided a puzzlebox would be an awesome place to live.) She also becomes better acquainted with situations where it is completely okay to haul off and kill someone! It seems that in Tai-tastigon you have to apply to go to war with someone. There are four kinds of legal warfare, private; for individuals and families, trade; for merchants, temple; for wars between religious types for religious reasons, guild; for guilds. Jame gets stuck in the middle of two religious types who decided to kill each other in the middle of the marketplace.
On the way back, Niggen, the son of Marplet who owns the Skyrrman decides to try braining Jame. Jame decides she wants to try rearranging Niggen’s face, but is stopped by Cleppety. This is how Jame discovers that the House of Luck-Bringers is in the middle of an illegal trade war with the Skyrrman. It seems that the owner of the Skyrrman decided to build his inn in the Res aB’tyrr’s chartered business area, and when Tubain went to complain about this completely illegal action. Unfortunately, it turns out that the magistrate, Harr sen Tenko wouldn’t even see them–and Har sen Tenko’s wife is Marplet’s sister.
Marplet is trying to goad the Res aB’tyrr into attacking the Skyrrman. If this happens, then Marpet will accuse the Res aB’tyrr of starting an illegal trade war which means the House of Luck-Bringers would be at fault, and the fines would be completely ruinous. Tubain did not want to tell Jame about this because a) he didn’t want to worry her b) he keeps hoping that the problem will magically go away.
Shortly after this incident, Jame decides that since “thief” seems to be a valid occupation in this city, and she certainly wants to see more of the city, to accept Penari’s offer. This is despite knowing that this not a decision a “proper” Kencyr would ever make. (We have already established that Jame is most likely not “proper” anyway.) She decides to seek out the advice of priest, who might be able to judge whether or not there was an honorable way to be a thief.