“Not one, she realized with a chill, was staring at her as though she had gone mad. They were all staring at her as though she was going to tell them what to do next.”
“Paladin of Souls” by Lois McMaster Bujold
God-tainted, mad-touched, recently isolated, the main character of Lois McMaster Bujold’s fantasy yarn Paladin of Souls has already lead a full and eventful life by the start of the book. Ista is a Dowager Royina with a bit of a past, though we don’t have much insight into the exacts at the beginning of the novel. She has been put into isolation to cure her madness, which is finally cured, and she’s feeling uncomfortable in her current place. Following a wild idea, she decides to break from the castle that has been her prison, and the little spurt of an adventure inspires her to take on a pilgrimage…anything to get the hell out of there for a little while.
What Ista doesn’t expect, however, is to encounter a suspicious wealth of demons appearing in the countryside and to get involved in the middle of a border war that tests all of the things she vowed to avoid in the autumn of her life…tricky and suspicious gods, fighting with demons, and even love. But the gods have chosen her (again!) and she’s the only one that can clean up the mess she finds herself in the middle of.
I call Paladin of Souls a yarn because it is an excellent stand-alone fantasy novel. Very often, fantasy as a genre lends itself to series. I always find it charming and rare to come across a book that isn’t a part of a trilogy or a cycle or a set of ten long and often drawn out books. As far as I can tell (this is my first Bujold), there are other books that take place in the same world as this one, but they are with different characters at different times. Still, even without the arsenal of other books, Paladin of Souls very effectively paints a vivid picture of Ista’s world, the legends and the mythology, and everything else one expects from fantasy. Mark one for Bujold.
Mark another for Bujold in the excellent unconventional heroine. Ista is not a young and beautiful princess; she’s middle-aged, complains of joint issues, and is a little embittered against the world. It never feels like a gimmick, though, it just feels genuine, and it’s a refreshing perspective to take.
There were times when the book felt a little slow, or repetitive, as there was a lot of traveling and a lot of hanging out by bedsides trying to figure out some tricksy demon stuff. But, overall, Paladin of Souls was rich and encompassing, intriguing and different, and, like the main character herself (though she’d be chagrined to hear it) wholly and utterly charming.
Book read: 4/100.