Bujold, Lois McMaster: (202) Paladin of Souls

I have semi-resolved to get caught up on the book log by New Year’s. It’ll be a good trick if I can pull it off, since I am a dozen entries behind.

In fact, I’m so behind that I was reading Lois McMaster Bujold’s Paladin of Souls back at the start of October. In a way, the very fact that this was first in the queue has added to the delay: I really liked it and want to do it justice, which I haven’t felt capable recently. However, I shall take my cue from the deities of the novel, who seek not perfection, and make an attempt.

Paladin is set in the same world as The Curse of Chalion, several years later, but is not a direct sequel. Its protagonist is a minor character from Chalion, Ista dy Chalion, an ex-saint who was embittered and broken by her divinely-directed attempt to break the titular curse. As Paladin opens, Ista resolves to go on a pilgrimage to escape from the prison of her life. Events, of course, overtake her—though not in the direction I thought when I finished the sample chapters online, which I really should have resisted reading. For that reason, I’m not sure how obvious the plot is; I didn’t spot it, but I was disoriented because of my expectations based on the sample chapters. I can say that it’s precisely paced (my favorite line, for instance, comes almost exactly halfway through). The story is obvious from the start: it’s the healing and rehabilitation of Ista.

The novel is told from Ista’s point of view, in the tight-third that Bujold does so well. The narration makes it retroactively clear just how much Chalion was the Daughter’s book, as Paladin is the Bastard’s; Paladin‘s drier, more cynical tone contrasts nicely with the more idealistic and romantic attitude in Chalion. (The Bastard also gets a lot more screen time than the Daughter did, which is a tricky thing to manage but works because He has so much personality.) The book explores some further ramifications of the world’s history and theology, beyond what we first learned in Chalion; I thought that the added layers to the story of dy Lutez worked particularly well.

The plot of Paladin is driven exclusively by women, two of which get a lot of screen time. One is Ista, of course, and I found her a refreshing change from Ekaterin, Bujold’s most recent female point-of-view character. (Don’t get me wrong, I like Ekaterin; but she’s so reserved that it’s rather fun to have a snarly outspoken protagonist.) Also, as pointed out in comments to a LiveJournal post filled with SPOILERS, Ista’s role in the book has very little to do with being a mother, which is again a nice change from Ekaterin and Cordelia both. The other major female character is more complex than I first expected, which I appreciated.

I found this a very satisfying, engaging book. There’s one bit of dialogue, clearly meant as an emotional climax, that inexplicably goes clunk in my head; but other than that, I’ve no other complaints. (I’ve seen other people comment that they thought the plot was predictable, but as I’ve said, I can’t speak to that.) I greatly enjoyed it and continue to offer up thanks that Bujold has not fallen prey to the Brain Eater.

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  1. The narration makes it retroactively clear just how much Chalion was the Daughter’s book, as Paladin is the Bastard’s
    Aha! Thanks; you’ve just helped me nail down part of what I found so disappointing in The Hallowed Hunt. I was eagerly anticipating the Father’s book (or the Mother’s, or the Son’s), and didn’t get it. I suppose it was intended to be the Son’s book, but it isn’t — not in anything like the way you refer to above.
    (I think this may be tied into the way Ingrey doesn’t really feel like the central character; the whole book is somehow off-center, so that the focal Deity and the focal mortal aren’t actually foci at all…)
    Ah well. This probably made more sense in my head before I tried to write it down. 🙂

  2. David: I agree about _The Hallowed Hunt_; it’s the Son’s book, but Ijada has a much closer tie to the Son than Ingrey, which is all part of the way the landscape of the book is distorted.

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