Audiobook Review: Paladin of Souls by Lois McMaster Bujold
Wendy’s Rating: 5 of 5 stars
“How fortunate for Us that We thirst for glorious souls rather than faultless ones, or We should be parched indeed and most lonely in Our perfect righteousness.”
The Curse of Chalion taught me a number of things about this world and about Bujold. The first lesson is: do not make assumptions about where the story might be going. Bujold politely walks you down each path, letting you get comfortable with each captivating step until you are certain of what comes next, then gently tugs the carpet out from under you and keeps moving on before you have time to catch your breath.
Like Cazaril, this book begins with a broken, older protagonist. Royina Ista, dowager of Chalion, spent most of the previous book in a curse-ridden, god-touched fog that everyone but Cazaril wrote off as madness. Now free, though still heavy with the guilt of her dreadful crime, Ista sets off on a pilgrimage to visit the shrines of the Five Gods. In truth, after being trapped for so long within a life of royalty and sainthood, Ista simply wants to get away. There is irony in her deception, since Ista bares a grudge against gods for what they have done in her life. She spends much of her time cursing them, but the gods of Bujold’s world accept all of this in stride.
Curse initially had me believe that the Five were merely figureheads, where prayer might result in something miraculous occurring, but such events could just as easily be explained by coincidence or parlour tricks. By the end, the guiding hands of the gods becomes shockingly clear. Now, Ista is unable to escape them as they haunt her dreams, guiding her to some unknown purpose. When her pilgrimage is interrupted by an enemy attack from which she is rescued by an unexpected hero, she begins to unravel the mystery as she attempts to decipher the cryptic messages from the Bastard god.
I adore the Bastard. He is not a typical trickster god, though he certainly takes his amusement whenever and where ever he pleases. He does not choose his saints randomly, and Ista’s resistance seems to amuse him as much as her potential pleases him. Ista quickly became a favourite character for me as she does for him.
As I said of Ista and the other women in Curse, heroes come in many forms and one who is able to endure the kind of things Ista has must not be overlooked. She carries herself with such grace and dignity, but is not above humility – something else that struck me with Cazaril when we first meet him in Curse. Both he and Ista are easily recognizable as brilliant, brave and capable people, but neither of them abuse their intelligence or status and they respect everyone, both lowborn and high.
Finally, I have to praise Kate Reading’s narration. I have listened to her before, usually reading the female-centric chapters of Brandon Sanderson and Robert Jordan‘s epic fantasies, but here she is on her own – and completely *owning* Ista. Reading captures all of Ista’s subtext, every nuance, every emotion. She lets her be weak and flawed as easily as she is strong, commanding and determined. Reading truly embodies this incredible character and brings her perfectly to life.