John Patrick Schutz's Reviews > Paladin of Souls

Paladin of Souls by Lois McMaster Bujold
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's review
Jun 22, 2011

it was amazing
bookshelves: fantasy
Read from November 06, 2003 to May 05, 2011 , read count: 3

Quite possibly the best fiction I've read in a decade. I was always fond of Lois McMaster Bujold's "Vorkosigan Series" of Science-Fiction books - always rollicking good fun while having deep underlying issues that make the reader remember them long after all the action and humor have faded to the background... but when Bujold decided to turn her hand to grand fantasy she found even more.

The first book of this grouping, "The Curse of Chalion" grabbed me from the first page. As a fan of Tolkein who does NOT enjoy most of the imitators and pretenders that simply don't have the depth of plot, deeper issues, facility with language, and creation of a fully realized alternate reality I was thrilled to find Bujold a worthy successor to Tolkein and Ursula LeGuin.

However, her second book in this loosely associated trio - "Paladin of Souls" took me from thrilled to astonishment. Not at all what one expects in a fantasy, our main character is a middle-aged noble woman, former Royina (Queen-Consort) and now "Dowager Royina" (mother of the current monarch). Only in her mid-forties, she is percieved as having served her purpose and is now no longer useful. In fact, she's considered slightly mad, though the reader will discover that assumption to be quite wrong. Troubled by a recurring dream, she embarks on what is obstensibly a religious pilgrimage, but is frankly an escape from those who would smother her with good intentions but slowly wring the life from her soul.

What she finds is remarkable, inspiring and frightening. The book brought me, a grown 40-something man to tears of heartbreak, rage and overwhelming joy on several occassions - and I've heard other men, usually not the type, respond in the same way. It is not a surprise that this book won just about every award a science-fiction/fantasy novel CAN win.

The follow-up third book "The Hallowed Hunt", is just as captivating as the first book "Chalion", and though it does not reach the soaring apex of the soul that "Paladin" acheives, it is in no way a letdown. It still has moments of staggering beauty and painful goodness, and brings us back to earth from the heights of the central novel.

The grouping is so wonderful that after reading each at its initial publication (2001, 2003, 2005) I have since re-read them twice. The "finish" date is for my most recent reading. I recommend this series even to those who do not generally go for "Grand Fantasy" as this is true Grand Fantasy, NOT a "swords and sorcery" stamped-out rehashed pulp novel. The issues and emotions dealt with here are much more evolved and thoughtful than any pretender to Tolkein's throne could be. Dare I say it, her insight into emotions and motivations is better than that of Tolkein, who did not let us see into the very souls of his heroes and heroines the way Bujold bares the very core of her protagonists.
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