Bewildering Stories

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Lois McMaster Bujold's Paladin of Souls

Title: "Paladin of Souls"
Author: Lois McMaster Bujold
Hardcover, October 2003 456 pages
ISBN: 0-380-97902-0
Price: $24.95
Lois McMaster Bujold is one of my favorite authors. I'd read Shards of Honor when it first came out, and didn't really get into it, but when The Warrior's Apprentice, the first of the Miles Vorkosigan books, came out, I was well and truly hooked. And I went back and reread Shards with a deeper understanding.

Anyway, Lois not only writes really fine "space opera" (if you will) but she is also quite good at fantasy. Although her first foray into fantasy The Spirit Ring was just okay, she really hit her stride with The Curse of Chalion, nominated for both the World Fantasy Award and the Hugo. (She's already won 4 Hugos...)

Paladin of Souls takes place in the land of Chalion, and minor characters from the first novel become the protagonists of this second novel. The primary character is Dowager-Royina Ista. (Royina is sort of like "Queen"). She has recovered from her gods' induced madness, and is wasting away in a backwater town, cossetted, controlled, and cursing the gods.

Ista needs a break, a vacation, from all this, and she realizes that she could "fake" a religious pilgrimage with a very few retainers. Things seem to fall into place as various servitors, including a pair of warrior brothers, a "divine" (similar to a priest) of the fifth god (aka The Bastard), and a courier girl named Liss who becomes a "lady in waiting", just "happen" to show up at the right time.

The book starts slowly, and the reader wonders if anything is actually going to happen. Fear not. The story takes off, travels down the well-beaten fantasy path, and then does a 90 degree turn into unfamiliar territory. Ista is menaced by the invading Jokanan raiders, but she is saved by the handsome Lord Arhys. Only there is a problem. He's married. He's dead. And his demon-ridden wife is keeping him "animated" by siphoning the life-force from his now bed-ridden brother.

The five gods of Chalion have plans for Ista. Especially the Bastard, who is hated and feared by the invaders. The book goes into the religious structure of Chalion more deeply than did The Curse of Chalion but the information is appropriately and painlessly doled out. And is needed to understand why the things that happen keep happening.

You don't need to have read The Curse of Chalion to enjoy Paladin of Souls as the book stands on its own, but I recommend getting and reading both. Once again, LMB has written a book to savor.

Copyright © 2004 by Jerry Wright