Department header
Bewildering Stories

Lois McMaster Bujold, The Hallowed Hunt

reviewed by Danielle L. Parker

The Hallowed Hunt
Author: Lois McMaster Bujold
Publisher: Harper-Collins, 2005
Hardcover: $24.95 U.S.
Length: 470 pages
ISBN: 0-06-057462-3
Have you ever read a book where something in the story intrigued you so much you had fantasies of having a wonderful argument with either the author or a character in the story? Two of the characters in Bujold’s latest book, The Hallowed Hunt, had such fun arguing with each other that they in fact, still wrangling, married and argued happily ever after. Good arguments require some philosophical meat, liquid lubrication (coffee or tea still being the best, as arguments sliding on alcoholic lubrication don’t have steady legs), and a sense of humor better yet, a lively sense of the ridiculous all around the table. I love to picture those long-ago clerics who disputed so fiercely about the number of angels who could dance on the head of a pin around a table, waving their crosiers and their mugs of whatever the local Byzantine watering hole served as they made their point. No doubt it’s wishful thinking on my part: I know from history that people died over theological issues as seemingly irrelevant as whether to bless with two fingers instead of three. But I can’t help but picture us — myself, double-shot decaf latte in hand; fat, pregnant Hallana, the churchly Divine, wishing she could have a beer; her argumentative husband, Learned Oswin — seated around that graffiti-scored wooden pub table, while we thump the table and fervently disagree.

That’s because very few writers bother to present a coherent moral, theological, or philosophical system in their stories nowadays. Oh, there’s adventure and romance in Bujold’s latest book, which features a mysterious sorcerer, power politics between both humans and gods, and a couple who are mad for each other when the hero isn’t actively trying to kill the heroine (he’s bespelled, of course). Normal stuff, I suppose. But the book’s more unique aspect is its dense depiction of its religious systems. There’s a feel of Catholicism, as if the story were inspired by Katherine Kurtz; there’s also a feel of voodoo — animal spirits, possessions, and demons riders, no less to it. There are moral issues of free will; there is a tormented, undying king who effectively defies the gods (small-g gods, who seem to need human intervention to just to steer dying souls to the right afterlife. Last Rites should be taken seriously in this story!). Even if some of it doesn’t quite hang together by my books (remember my day-dreams of that coffee-house discussion) it’s a novel and ambitious undertaking.

All of this provides background for a tale that begins with an almost-rape. Lady Ijada is abandoned by her jealous mistress, the Princess, into the lustful power of bad Prince Boleso. But it is a rape of a different sort the prince has in mind. He collects the souls of animals. But the leopard soul he intends to take into himself, via his dark rite, is diverted into the would-be sacrificial victim Ijada when she clubs the prince to death with a nearby war hammer. (Good for her.)

Lord Ingrey’s kin Wolfcliff, who himself was forced to receive the soul of a wolf as a child, arrives to take charge of the defiant lady and conduct her to her trial. But something’s not quite right with Lord Ingrey, either. He’s surely smitten by the lady, but something keeps making him try to smite her, too — a powerful geas placed by an unknown sorcerer. Can Ingrey and Ijada survive to Live Happily Ever After? (Make a guess.)

The book’s most frustrating aspect, to me, was its failure to do more with one of the pivotal characters. I won’t spoil the surprise (although it’s not hidden long) by naming the actual character, but he is a king who intends to defy the gods and end the curse of his forced immortality at any price. His pride is almost Luciferan; certainly, he is at least a defiant Flying Dutchman, unyielding and tormented to the end. I wish the author had used such a clearly complex and intriguing person more effectively than she does. Our anti-hero gets far less showtime than he deserves. Well, I suppose the best villains are the ones we hate to see bow off the stage. Ms. Bujold, couldn’t we persuade you to bring this un-hallowed king back again for the sort of show he really deserves? (Sequels work for Dracula, dark hero of ten thousand Bram Stoker imitations! Just think what you might start here!)

The Hallowed Hunt is set in the world of Bujold’s previous works Paladin of Souls and The Curse of Chalion, so if you haven’t ventured there yet, you have some easy-chair-and-munchies reading time ahead of you. Enjoy!

Copyright © 2005 by Danielle L. Parker

Home Page