Carol. 's Reviews > Paladin of Souls

Paladin of Souls by Lois McMaster Bujold
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Jan 15, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: awards, epic-fantasy, female-lead, nebula
Recommended for: fans of epic fantasy, feudal fantasy
Read 2 times. Last read January 15, 2012.

Unexpectedly captivating.

I'm a longtime fantasy reader, but I've gotten tired of the current crop of twenty year old heroines, the descriptions of their clothes, their vague struggles with boyfriends, and the development of their special powers. Even if coming-into-one's power storylines are set with werewolves and vampires, a certain uniformity starts to develop. Paladin does something I never expected in an epic fantasy; she's written a thoughtful coming-of-age story focused on a forty-year old noblewoman who has been fighting her 'god-touched' connection for years.

Ista is an interesting, complex female lead that is reaching toward change, even if she isn't exactly sure how to get there. She's had emotional scarring in her past, and years of a cursed "madness" coupled with her status as a royal have kept her wrapped in a cocoon. However, she recognizes this and longs for some unspecified alternative. "The dullness of her life, the stalemate of her soul since then was just long habit." She develops a plan to escape her highly protected life under the guise of a pilgrimage visiting various gods' shrines. It's part of the underlying irony that this is Ista's justification for travel when she secretly hates the gods and their interference in her life.

While some events happen to her in the beginning, she begins to take more authority over her choices and decisions little by little, until it is partly her energy and leadership that (view spoiler) Her entourage is an interesting group as well. Liss, a courier pressed into service as a lady's maid, made me laugh when they first tried to work out how to manage Ista's hair. "You do your own, presumably. What do you do with it?" "Well, I put it in a braid..." "Do you do the horses?" "Oh yes, my lady. Snail braids, and dressed with ribbons..." It's a charming little snippet of dialogue that shows Ista's willingness to step outside her traditional boundaries.

Bujold has a very unexpected way of dealing with demons, god-possession and life-energy. Part of Ista's struggles are a personal and theological grudge against the deities of her world from events that happened during her early marriage. Even within the framework of the system Bujold has created, she manages to take the spiritual angles of the magic and demon system to unexpected places. (view spoiler) A demon-ridden woman, initially set up to be a negative and opposing force, develops into a tragic figure by the end of the story.

Bujold's writing is a perfect mix of description and action. I enjoyed her imagery and use of language. The subtle ways she shows us Ista's confinement at court; the pacing, bouncing her foot furiously beneath a gown, a well-meaning handmaiden taking the outside edge of a steep walkway all go so much farther to convey the feeling than a mere "Ista was frustrated." Ista herself is quite a woman, with intelligence and depths of character; her moments of sly humor streaking through her thoughts bring a smile to Ista and the reader, even as she conceals her thoughts from her surrounding company. "She wondered, a little dryly, if the school also had a particularly fine cook." "She approached the possessed animal, who lowered its head again... in what might be submission, love or dementia."

Yet while Ista develops and pushes herself in new directions, Bujold wisely keeps transformations believable. (view spoiler). All in all, a well-balanced and nicely developed book that deserves its many awards.
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
January 15, 2012 – Started Reading
January 15, 2012 – Shelved
January 15, 2012 – Finished Reading
January 30, 2012 – Shelved as: awards
January 30, 2012 – Shelved as: epic-fantasy
January 30, 2012 – Shelved as: female-lead
January 30, 2012 – Shelved as: nebula

Comments (showing 1-10 of 10) (10 new)

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Carol After reading your review of Paladin of Souls, I was surprised that you only gave it 4 out of 5 stars, but I see that 4 stars is your top rating. Wonder what that 5 star book would be.


Carol. I had a few small problems with Paladin and Curse, that partly have to do with personal taste.

I save the 5 for my favorites and must-purchase-and-read again. Feel free to check out my shelves--there are some there, I promise you!


Tracy I've noticed you don't really love Bujold's books very much. But I really do. I especially love how she writes middle aged romance. This is absolutely one of my favourite books. Although I loved Shards of Honour too (not as much though) and you definitely did not. For my money though Barrayar is a better book.


Carol. Well, I enjoyed this one! I also liked the prequel, but I haven't really gotten around to most of her other writing. I hear wonderful things about the Miles saga, but I wonder if some of it is growing up in the world.


Carol Carol, Bujold's Vorkosigan saga is excellent story-telling for the first seven books. Mirror Dance, Memory, and Komarr are another level beyond them. The characters by this time are so well-developed, the story has such layers of complexity, that the author reaches unusual levels of profundity. The stories are still well-told, with humor and grace, but the scenes are so memorable that I find myself reading them again and again. And then we come to A Civil Campaign. A Civil Campaign is fiction writing at its best. There are more books after that, as thoroughly enjoyable as dessert and coffee after an enchanting meal. But A Civil Campaign is glorious.


Carol. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Carol.


message 7: by Mayim (new) - added it

Mayim De Vries I liked this instalment even more that the previous one. And Ista just bloomed in the most endearing way.


Carol. Absolutely agree. I liked the first, but really, really enjoyed this one.


Carol Very often I think Paladin of Souls is my favorite book.


Carol. I feel like I should reread this as well!


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