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Paladin of Souls
Lois McMaster Bujold
HarperCollins Eos, 464 pages

Paladin of Souls
Lois McMaster Bujold
Lois McMaster Bujold was born in Columbus, Ohio, in 1949. She attended Ohio State and later worked as a pharmacy technician at the Ohio State University Hospitals. She has two children and now lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Her first novel, Shards of Honor, was completed in 1983 and published in 1986. Her first professional sale was a story in 1984 to Twilight Zone Magazine. Falling Free was her first Nebula Award. Since then she has won another Nebula, and 4 Hugo Awards.

Lois McMaster Bujold Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Curse of Chalion
SF Site Review: The Spirit Ring
Excerpt: The Curse of Chalion
Interview

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Sherwood Smith

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I have to admit my partisanship right up front. I am an unregenerate fan of the Miles Vorkosigan books and The Curse of Chalion, which serves as a prequel to this book. Though Paladin of Souls stands quite well on its own.

Other fans of her work only need the word that a new Lois McMaster Bujold book is out, and that's that. Let me endeavor to express, for those who might not have tried any of her books, why this one should be given a chance.

The plot is fairly easily summed up: the Royina Ista, a middle-aged widow, decides to go on pilgrimage through the land of Chalion, which feels a lot like a Renaissance alternate-Spain, one that is overseen from the other-worldly realm by five gods, so there are five religious traditions going on here. On the way, she and the divine leading her entourage discover that demons have been appearing in the world with disturbing frequency, having escaped from the fifth god's hell. The pilgrimage is then waylaid by a lost contingent of Roknari warriors from the neighboring kingdom; she is rescued by a swashbuckling horseman who attacks a troop single-handedly. He is Arhys, march of Porifors, a border fortress that has seen far too much action of late.

Roknari, demons, and gods tangle up in fast action covering just a span of days, and Ista is squarely at the center.

What make Paladin of Souls so rich and readable are Bujold's strengths as a storyteller, here on confident display. Ista is, like Cordelia Naismith, a grouchy, funny, smart middle-aged heroine, not beautiful, but eminently lovable, even when she is angry and soul-parched and must rediscover love.

Besides Ista there are a pair of heroes who ought to please anyone who likes swashbuckling men, and a cast of subsidiary characters none of whom are mere spear carriers or cardboard Greek chorus, all reacting the same way in order to signal the reader what emotional reaction is required.

Bujold is not just a master of plot, she is a master of emotion.

"I think you left some hard turns out of your tale, too." But that last remark had the weight and density of a truth too large to be denied. How like a man, to change from mask to mask like a player, concealing all intention, yet leave his heart out on the table, carelessly, unregarded, for all to see.
Amid all the action Bujold shows us, with grace and wit, that middle-aged love can be sexy and romantic, can even be the more powerful because the attraction is backed by experience.

But the young characters are not overlooked. One of the most interesting and complex is Arhys' young wife, who is gorgeous, obsessively in love, and very self-centered. But watch as Bujold reveals layers in her character as the story unfolds; you cannot predict what will happen.

One of Bujold's strengths is the generosity of spirit that gleams like a vein of gold through even the grimmest wars and immoral actions of the Vorkosigan saga. In the Chalion world, there is plenty of room for emotional conflict, and growth, for moral choice and its consequences.

What this fantasy series permits Bujold to explore, as the Barrayaran stories do in a very limited sense, is speculative religion. And she does it with verve and dash.

"Ista swallowed, or tried to. And prayed, Ista-fashion: or made a prayer of rage, as some claimed to do of song or the work of their hands. So long as it was from the heart, the divines promised, the gods would hear... I am not a child, or virgin, or modest wife, fearing to offend. No one owns my eyes now but me. If I have not the stomach by now to look upon any sight in the world, good or evil, beautiful or vile, when shall I? It is far too late for innocence."
The gods are not one-dimensional and predictable figures. Rare is the light-shaft of numinosity in fantasy these days, despite (maybe because of) vast powers being splashed back and forth across the megaverse by Evial Mages and Goddess-blessed Sorceresses, but Bujold manages it in this novel.
"Your Father calls you to his Court. You need not pack; you go garbed in glory as you stand."
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.

Copyright © 2003 Sherwood Smith

Sherwood Smith is a writer by vocation and reader by avocation. Her webpage is at www.sff.net/people/sherwood/.


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