Thursday, March 15, 2007

by Lois McMaster Bujold


Well, I was so totally delighted with THE CURSE OF CHALION , that I plunged immediately into the sequel, PALADIN OF SOULS, .

This novel picks up three years after the grand and happy conclusion of the first. Here, the Provincara who first sheltered Cazaril (the hero from CHALION) is dead, and Ista--she generally thought driven mad by her sorrows, but whom wise and deep-seeing Cazaril came to understand was one of the specially-sighted, a once-saint of the Mother goddess--remains feeling more trapped than ever in the fortress under the care of the kindly, but overprotective dy Ferrej and her own powerful brother.

She is still much angry with the gods for her sufferings and their meddlings-to her sense, poorly done and mostly ineffectual--in her life. She yearns, desperately, for escape. And so she does, under pretense of a pilgrimage to plead the gods at various holy sites for the boon of a male heir for her daughter and her husband, the rulers of Chalion-Ibra.

But the gods are not done with their reluctant and bitter saint, and the pilgrimage turns into an unexpected and harrowing journey into the demon-infested and tragedy-haunted northlands, where Ista must choose to truly be a saint and work with the gods or remain in defiance and turn her back on a great need in her land.

The choice will make or unmake her.

McMaster Bujold builds slowly, as she did with THE CURSE OF CHALION, but once the key characters are involved--first dy Cabon, the portly and dream-touched divine of the Bastard's order; then the amiable and heroic dy Gura twins from the first book; and the sexually magnetic and magnificent leader Arhys, lord of Porifors, who lives with an uncanny situation and wounds from the past and present; and his stricken brother Illvin, who haunts Ista's dreams and is haunted in dreams by Ista; the spunky female courier Liss; the beautiful marchess Cattilara, obessed and loyal wife of Arhys-- and once the most dreadful conflicts emerge, the pace quickens and much action ensues.

Will Ista find redemption, and will she become an instrument of salvation in doing so? Or is the dark conspiracy too much for a memory-haunted and shame-burdened royina (dowager queen).

As in CHALION, the spiritually focused and dramatic climax is a beautiful and wondrous thing to read and experience.

I still think that I prefer CHALION by a few hairs. I found the repeated capture and rescues in PALADIN a bit tiresome as we neared the grand conclusion. But the characters are sympathetic and flawed, and it is a pleasure to see them face huge obstacles. As in CHALION, there is a lovely romance we root for and heroic men and women who change the world into a better place by just doing what they must and cana according to their abilities as the need arises, and sometimes, even doing what they think they can't, stepping out in faith or hope or love or for honor.

The medieval Spanish/Portuguese echoes are strong here as in the first novel, and the villain is more gruesome. A curse of a different sort is lifted by the cooperative efforts of courageous and trusting humans and enigmatic gods. Here, the Bastard god is at work, even as the Daughter goddess was focal in the spiritual action of the first book; and he is absolutely fascinating and quite a tease. The Father god, barely present in the first novel, gets a beautiful scene of his own, one that will resonate with Christians.

The climactic battle sequences are very strong, quite moving, and rivetting, as this is no conventional warfare. I won't divulge any details, because plot points would be ruined, but LMB certainly opened the conduit of creativity to come up with this powerful endgame. I wept, more than once.

This novel won the Hugo award, and it's certainly another fine offering from the very talented LMB. I look forward to delving into THE HALLOWED HUNT, even with the reviews not so glowing for the third in the CHALION series.


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