PALADIN OF SOULS
by Lois McMaster Bujold
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Paladin of Souls is Lois McMaster Bujold’s follow-up to her highly successful 2001 fantasy The Curse of Chalion. Never one to apply the same formula in multiple books, even when they are set in the same world and use the same characters, Paladin of Souls is a very different novel from the earlier work. For fans of the world of Chalion, this is good news, perhaps less so for those who enjoyed the writing style or specific characters from the earlier novel.While The Curse of Chalion followed Castillar Lupe dy Cazaril and the royasse Iselle, Paladin of Souls is the story of Iselle’s mother, the dowager royina Ista dy Baocia. Finally cured of the madness which had long seized her, Ista desires nothing more than to leave the sheltered life of the royina behind her, which results in her first fleeing the castle grounds and later departing on an erstwhile pilgrimage. Being a royina, of course, the group accompanying her on her pilgrimage is not particularly small or typical, including a pair of warrior brothers, a young, female courier, and a spiritual advisor.
Just as Ista's entourage is not typical, neither is Bujold's novel. Her heroine is a sheltered middle-aged woman who is only now figuring out who she is apart from her official position. Because of this, despite her own age and history, Ista lacks much of the experience one would expect and therefore has an almost adolescent quality, although one tempered by her past. As her pilgrimage progresses, Ista's company finds itself in a war zone, and, more importantly, beset by demons. Rather than focus on the action which should be taking place in these areas, Bujold is more interested in examining the reactions of her characters, as seen through Ista's eyes.
All of this adds up to a novel which is very slow moving, but strong on character development. Bujold works to show not only Ista's growth as she puts her former life behind her, but also her changing attitudes about the people around her. She sees them each as individuals who are not only along on her pilgrimage to help her, but also to live their own lives and overcome their own obstacles.
While there is some of Bujold's trademark humor in Paladin of Souls, it is much more understated that frequently is the case, making Paladin of Souls a more serious novel than many of the Vorkosigan books of The Curse of Chalion. While this is a nice change of pace and adds gravitas to the book, it may also be a little disconcerting for some of Bujold's readers who expect certain things from the author no matter the work, however, those who approach Paladin of Souls with an open mind will be richly rewarded.
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