The main thing that pulls you into the stories in Black God's Kiss is the description of the worlds that Jirel enters. C. L. Moore uses the character of Jirel as a vehicle to explore new and unknown worlds. I found myself dragged along by the need to discover just what Jirel would face next, since the worlds are set up so that almost anything can happen.
In the introduction of the book, Suzy McKee Charnas states, "Moore was clearly as interested in mood and atmosphere as in action" (18). And this is evident right from the first story, "Black God's Kiss". Instead of seeing a deep backstory or an emotional exploration of Jirel, the reader is presented with this weird portal into a strange world--a tube that twists and turns deep into the earth, where there is no up or down. Then, Jirel steps into a world with an expansive night sky, a place where gravity works differently, where strange human apparitions hop through a swamp, and a tower made of light greets her.
Every step Jirel takes in the story, she doesn't know what is to come, nor does the reader, and that's the great appeal of it. The reader looks forward to the new discoveries and the descriptions of this alien world. At one point, Jirel comes across a herd of white horses. It all seems so beautiful and majestic, something a little more normal, but we find out otherwise. "But as they came abreast of her she saw one blunder and stumble against the next, and that one shook his head bewilderingly; and suddenly she realized that they were blind--all running so splendidly in a deeper dark than even she groped through" (39).
In the second story, my favorite, "Black God's Shadow", Jirel enters that same world as in the first, but it's changed. The tower of light is gone, and there is a river where one wasn't the first time. At this point, we get the hint that this world is like a living entity in itself. And throughout the entire story, many of the descriptions hint at how this world is truly alive. "But it seemed to her that the ground against her body was too warm, somehow, and moving gently as if with leisured breathing" (75).
"Black God's Shadow" is the epitome of a story that pulls the reader along solely with the atmosphere and the strange discoveries Jirel finds. There are fields of flowers that grow with insects trapped in them, and if disturbed and released, those insects are vicious. The water whispers and sounds as if it is talking, and it attempts to reach out and grab onto Jirel. Even the trees she comes across cast strange shadows. "And one slim, leafless tree writhed against the stars with a slow, unceasing motion. It made no sound, but its branches twisted together and shuddered and strained in an agony more eloquent than speech. It seemed to wring its limbs together, agonized, dumb, with a slow anguish that never abated. And its shadow, dimly, was the shadow of a writhing woman" (71). Near the end, Jirel hears a strange music on the wind, and Moore describes it all so beautifully.
I could go on to point out all the alluring details in every one of the stories of Jirel of Joiry, but I think the previous examples are just enough to show the draw of Moore's atmospheric writing. The pull of the unknown tempts the reader to turn the page, and then there are wonderful descriptions when Jirel crosses paths with the many oddities. Darkness pervades all of these stories, and Moore is deft at reigning it in and making the alien worlds come alive.
Moore, C. L. Black God's Kiss. Planet Stories: Bellevue, Washington, 2007.
NEXT UP: One of my favorites - The Hobbit!