RogerBW's Blog

Paladin of Souls, Lois McMaster Bujold 08 June 2018

2003 fantasy, sequel to The Curse of Chalion and set three years later. Ista, widowed mother of the new queen, feels supernumerary – even without her embarrassing history of madness. But the gods haven't finished with her yet.

The theme is of a piece with the first book: sensible grown-ups are the people who get stuff done, the gods interact with the world through people, and the protagonist has been through hell. On the other hand, Ista rails much more against her god-touched fate than Cazaril did, gets into rather more trouble, and ends up in a surprisingly different place.

Do Your second-worst. Your worst, you have done to me already.

You could read this without having read The Curse of Chalion, but I think it's better to see the outside view of Ista there first, before being thrown into her head in this book. This is an epic fantasy story where the way people think is much more important than what magic powers they have.

She stopped, drew breath, looked around at the shocked faces staring back at her. 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.

There's less in the way of court life than before, and rather more small drama of people, as well as rather more about sorcery and how it works (this is the first time in the series we meet demons, though of course they're much expanded on in the Penric books). It's all shown more than told, and one of the major ideas from the first book is continued: the gods may need worship, but when it comes to the people they work through in the world they like someone with a bit of spirit who'll get things done rather than a passive praiser.

"Can you, simultaneously, handle a screaming, weeping, distraught woman?"

"Ah," he said, contemplating this unpalatable vision. "Can you?"

"I think so." In fact, I think I'm looking forward to it.

Perhaps Ista's early internal and personal struggles are more compelling than the later external and magical ones against a variety of foes, but she still works as a really interesting character.

Reread for Neil Bowers' Hugo-Nebula Joint Winners Reread.

(Other nominees for the 2004 Best Novel Hugo were Dan Simmons' Ilium, Robert Charles Wilson's Blind Lake and Robert J. Sawyer's Humans, none of which I've read, and Charlie Stross' Singularity Sky – which was OK but for me nowhere near as good as this.)

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