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The Spirit Ring
Lois McMaster Bujold
Baen Books, 347 pages

The Spirit Ring
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 and 3 Hugo Awards.

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A review by Peter D. Tillman

The Spirit Ring is based on "The Grateful Dead," which is an old folk-tale (young man pays for a pauper's burial and is rewarded by his ghost), Lois McMaster Bujold's great-uncle's Ph.D. dissertation, and (I presume) source of the band's name. This is, I think, her most personal novel. The heroine's domineering, larger-than-life father must be, in part, Lois McMaster Bujold's own engineer-father, though the character is formally modeled on Benvenuto Cellini. The spunky, rebellious, and ultimately spectacularly-successful daughter is surely in part Lois herself (or at least a power-fantasy wish-fulfillment mental self image).1 Huh. I don't normally do (or like) this sort of review, but it feels right this time.

Lois McMaster Bujold has written that the engineer-hero of Falling Free was explicitly modeled after her father. And The Spirit Ring is her only female coming-of-age novel. None of this will get in the way of your enjoyment of the book. By the way, it's Lois McMaster Bujold at her storytelling best, a fine and stirring yarn indeed.

We're in the smokehouse at a rural inn:

Thur glanced up, then his gaze was riveted by what lay in the shadows above the rafters... the nude body of a gray-bearded man, close-wrapped in the same sort of gauze as the sausages... His skin was shrivelled and tanning in the smoke.

"Pico was right," Thur observed after a moment's stunned silence. "Your wife does smoke the most unusual hams."

Catti glanced up after him. "Oh, that," he said in disgust. "...He's a refugee from Montefoglia who didn't quite make it. Penniless, it turned out -- after the bill was run up."

"Do you often do this to guests who don't pay?" asked Thur in a fascinated voice. "I'll tell Pico to settle our bill promptly..."

The Spirit Ring was Lois McMaster Bujold's 9th published novel, first fantasy novel and first hardcover. It didn't sell very well. I was vaguely aware of its existence but I'm not a regular fantasy reader and had passed it by. Don't you make the same mistake.

For me, Lois McMaster Bujold is one of the most interesting and consistently successful SF authors currently active. I've now read all her novels (save the newest) and have been happily rereading her oldest -- all of which stand up nicely and seem likely to remain readable indefinitely.

[1] Don't get me wrong -- I like a good power-fantasy as well as the next geeky socially-impaired SF fan.

Copyright © 1998 by Peter D. Tillman

Pete Tillman has been reading SF for better than 40 years now. He reviews SF -- and other books -- for Usenet, "Under the Covers", Infinity-Plus, Dark Planet, and SF Site. He's a mineral exploration geologist based in Arizona. More of his reviews are posted at .

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