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Flash book review: Paladin of Souls

I just finished reading Lois McMaster Bujold's Paladin of Souls. What a subtle charmer!

I've never read her works before, but I picked this book up after the cover art caught my interest the other day.

The story started off slow--a bit too slow for my tastes, actually--but the endearing characterization and the vivid descriptive detail kept me going until I reached the second third of the book, where the plot picks up. From there, it was a page-turner all the way. I had trouble putting it down and forcing myself to go to sleep, for a few nights.

The tale describes the growth and redemption of Ista, a middle-aged noblewoman who suffered from a bout of madness in the early years of adulthood and the subsequent loss of her husband and son. As the story begins, Ista has decided that she can no longer bear to live trapped in her royal home with her grief, and seeks a way to escape the suffocating habits of her dutiful attendants. She devises a plan that will allow her to leave her home for a time on official business--a religious pilgrimage, in fact--but encounters more trouble than she bargained for on her journey.

Ista's prior madness, readers learn, was actually not madness at all, but part of a curse over her family that forces them to act as servants of the gods. The effects she suffered became dormant for a time, but as the story progresses, they surface again and she must find a way to contend with the meddling of the gods as their chosen agent. She is charged with the duty of solving a mystery that leaves one brother dead but walking and the other forced into an unnatural sleep that only ends for a few short hours each day.

By far the character I found most interesting was Ista. She understands courtly manners and observes them, but her actions are constantly shadowed by interior monologues that reveal her true personality: a lonely woman with an iron will and a wry, witty sense of humor. She's the oldest and most eccentric main character I've ever seen in this kind of high fantasy story, and I was thoroughly impressed that Bujold made her worthy of that role despite her atypical age and demeanor. The characterization of the other major players in the story deserves similar praise.

You'll fall in love with at least one of these characters. You'll be moved to pity and fear and sorrow. Ista's journey is one worth sharing.



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