Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Paladin of Souls by Lois McMaster Bujold

Posted by Simcha 8:46 AM, under | 4 comments

Louis McMaster Bujold’s Paladin of Souls has been sitting on my shelf, unread, for the past year. I had picked it up on my last trip to America, not realizing that it was a sequel to an earlier book, and so I put this book aside until I had a chance to read the first one, The Curse of Chalion. Now that I have finally read it, I only wish I had made more of an effort to do so sooner.

Although Paladin of Souls takes place in the same world as
The Curse of Chalion, with some of the same characters, the story is independent of the earlier book, focusing on different individuals and a different plot line. In Chalion, Ista was introduced as the mentally unstable widow of the king. Although, as it turned out, the “madness” was really based on fact, and Ista recovered after the curse was removed, she continued to be treated by those close to her as though she might become unhinged at any moment. At the start of Paladin of Souls, Ista is put into the care of the castle warder, and all her ladies in waiting, where she is expected to spend the rest of her days in quiet solitude.

Frustrated by the suffocating ministrations of those around her, and desiring to escape, Ista suggests a pilgrimage to pray at the country’s holy sites. Although she has no real desire for a spiritual journey, it is the only acceptable excuse that Ista could think of that would allow her to get away. A motley crew is assorted for the pilgrimage and Ista leaves behind her home, with much relief.

Ista’s relief is short lived as during the journey she discovers that the gods are not quite as finished with her as she had hoped. She begins to be assailed by dreams of an injured man calling for her help, and she fears that the dreams be more then just dreams. When an attack by a raiding enemy party leads Ista to the very man who she has been dreaming about, she realizes that the gods have another mission for her, despite the fact that she had failed her previous one.

It is difficult to describe
Paladin of Souls in only a few short paragraphs, particularly without giving too much away. This is a well told, fast paced story with plenty of adventure and excitement, and a bit of romance thrown in. Ista’s companions on her journey are all well developed characters that the reader will surely come to care for. My favorite was the country bred courier girl whom Ista had impulsively invited to become her lady-in-waiting for the excursion.

One of the things I found particularly interesting was Ms. Bujold’s atypical choices for a heroine, the 40 year old widowed mother of the queen. It was nice to have a heroine that was a little different then what you normally get in a quest adventure book.

There was just one part of the book that bothered me and that was when two brothers, after being separated from each other for a long while, are finally reunited. Despite the fact that the brothers had been very close and each thought the other to possibly be dead, when they were brought together the scene was very unemotional and matter-of-fact. I would have expected a bit more drama and emotion rather then the brief exchange of banter that took place. And then when Ista explained to the brothers the strange magical situation that they were in, they were so accepting of everything she said, despite the bizarreness of it, that I found it strange. I saw no real reason why the brothers should have so easily believed what Ista told them. It seemed out of character for these two strong independent men to so easily accept the wild tale that they were told with barely a protest. But these two issues are really just nit-picking on my part. I’m particularly sensitive to book characters who don’t behave as I have come to expect them to.

I would highly recommend Paladin of Souls to anyone looking for a good fantasy book, though I would suggest reading The Curse of Chalion first for a better understanding of the story. Just don’t wait a year to read it, like I did.


That is unusual - to have a middle-aged heroine. I already like this book!

I'm been seeing both books around for a while now but haven't picked either one up. Thank you for the review as it has now given my the drive to do so.

StephanieD: Bujold is great at creating heroes out of unorthodox characters. Most heroes and heroins are young, well-built and good looking, so it's nice to find something a little different.

Ryan: I'm really surprised that I never see any of Bujold's books on review on other blogs. Here in Israel she is one of the most popular scifi and fantasy authors. If you do read them, I look forward to hearing what you think

I totally adored this book. I never would have found it if I hadn't been "reading the Hugos". My aunt is a librarian and picked it off the list. When I read it, I didn't even know it was a sequel and I don't think not having read the first book hurt my reading experience at all. I think Paladin of Souls is one of the best fantasy books ever.

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