Friday, April 04, 2008

Paladin of Souls

Paladin of Souls by Lois McMaster Bujold doesn't, from the cover art, look like a story that would interest me. That'll teach me to judge a book by its cover, though I still can't bring myself to pick up another book with a picture of a dragon on it. I think all those Pern books just burned me out.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book from start to finish. It leaves itself open for a sequel but doesn't demand one and can be appreciated as a stand-alone. It turns out to be a sequel itself, but I didn't realize that until I started this post.

I loved having a middle-aged woman as protagonist.

from the dust jacket:

Three years have passed since the widowed Dowager Royina Ista found release from the curse of madness that kept her imprisoned in her family's castle of Valenda. Her newfound freedom is costly, bittersweet with memories, regrets, and guilty secrets - for she knows the truth of what brought her land to the brink of destruction. And now the road - escape - beckons.... A simple pilgrimage, perhaps. Quite fitting for the Dowager Royina of all Chalion.

Yet something else is free, too - something beyond deadly. To the north lies the vital border fortress of Porifors. Memories linger there as well, of wars and invasions and the mighty Golden General of Jokona. And someone, something, watches from across that border - humans, demons, gods.

Ista thinks her little party of pilgrims wanders at will. But whose? When Ista's retinue is unexpectedly set upon not long into its travels, a mysterious ally appears - a warrior nobleman who fights like a berserker. The temporary safety of her enigmatic champion's castle cannot ease Ista's mounting dread, however, when she finds his dark secrets are entangled with hers in a net of the gods' own weaving.

In her dreams the threads are already drawing her to unforeseen chances, fateful meetings, fearsome choices. What the inscrutable gods commanded of her in the past brought her land to the brink of devastation. Now, once again, they have chosen Ista as their instrument. And again, for good or for ill, she must comply.

This book is the 2004 winner of the Locus Award for best fantasy novel, the Hugo Award and the Nebula.

The SFSite review concludes its review with this:

Action, character, humor, terror, moral as well as physical conflict, emotional complexity, religious questing in the realm of the spirit -- and redemption. These are the elements of a wonderful novel, one I highly recommend. likes it but compares it unfavorably to its predecessor:

I wish this sequel to The Curse of Chalion had been as strong a book as that one. Paladin of Souls is quite good; from any other writer in the field I might have bumped up the rating a notch. There is much here to enjoy and admire in equal measure, and I'm not in the least displeased it ran off with every award under the sun despite its predecessor's being more deserving. It's just that, considering what Bujold achieved in Curse, in creating an epic fantasy as thought-provoking as it was viscerally entertaining, the fact that Paladin of Souls is so much more traditional in its approach is kind of a shame. Curse was no simple escapist novel; Paladin is more escapist than anything else.

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