Paladin of Souls

August 28th, 2005
This entry is part [part not set] of 1 in the series Chalion
  • Paladin of Souls

Bujold is…a difficult author to describe. She plots very well. She is capable of adapting seemingly any number of fiction genres into her own milieu, and even making it look easy. Her prose is rich without being purple, and she is capable of character interactions both interesting and subtle. I also think she’s the most successful Mary Sue author I’ve ever read. I’ve had that impression since I read Cordelia’s Honor, and the further adventures of Miles that I’ve acquired were unable to dislodge it. Curse of Chalion, her first attempt at fantasy, very nearly did; it’s easily one of the best books I’ve read in the past few years, and I highly recommend it…but Paladin of Souls done gone and reinforced that notion of mine I mentioned. Before I go any further, I need to make clear…this is a good book, I liked it quite a bit, I don’t think almost anyone who enjoyed Curse of Chalion should give it a miss, and I’m obviously not the only one who feels that way.

Bujold returns us to the kingdom of Chalion, though from a different perspective, that of Ista, widow of one of Chalion’s recent succession of cursed kings. Suffering under the geas of that curse herself and a confused vision from the Gods that led to terrible events, Ista was driven mad and only recently has she been able to make strides towards recovery, a recovery which few of the servants and distant relations she has surrounded herself with are quite ready to believe in, so ingrained have their habits as caretaker of an invalid become. To escape them, she invents the pretext of a religious pilgrimage, traveling disguised and lightly guarded as a minor noblewoman might, although her plans should keep her miles away from Chalion’s troubled borders. Plans which her Gods paid little attention to.

Very soon into her voyage, Ista begins having supernatural dreams and visitations not entirely unlike those she had had many years before when she was god touched, and then she and her party are captured by forces of Chalion’s enemies, enemies who are far out of place and seem to be tied somehow to demonic powers. Ista is rescued by a Border Lord of Chalion, who, along with his comatose half-brother who has been appearing in Ista’s dreams, also seems to have some sort of tie to the mysterious demonic powers, and it seems that the only way to deal with all of this confusion (and a probably imminent invasion) is to accept the Touch of the Gods in her life once again.

Now I’m not averse to the occasional touch of romance in my fiction, but the Romance genre has a certain taste to it, and this book left almost as much of it in my mouth as Cordelia’s Honor did. Ista, a Lady who is not old by modern standards but certainly is approaching it by any medieval society’s, leaves her home as a woman physically and psychologically weakened by years of madness and isolation. After a few weeks of (sometimes very) rough living, she rides like a trooper and walks boldly into the camp of an enemy army, feats which are unrealistic but not unsurprising at all to a reader of Fantasy…but she also finds herself pursued and pursuing, romantically, in what seem the worst and least likely of situations for such feelings to develop. Her rivals turn out to be weak and/or evil, but she’s just the greatest thing ever, isn’t she? It’s all just a little too good to buy, and it’s no surprise to me that several of the awards I linked to above are from the Romance genre…a genre that is often, in my perception, one big celebration of the Mary Sue phenomenon. It wasn’t enough to make me not enjoy this book, and if you found my synopsis above intriguing, I highly recommend picking up both Curse and Paladin, but if you’re downright allergic to the Romance genre, you might just stop with Curse.

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