Here's my quickie, spoiler-free review of Bujold's latest, PALADIN OF SOULS, which begins approximately three years after THE CURSE OF CHALION (CoC).
The main character is Ista, the queen mother. Her mother, the Provincara, has just died, and she feels very hemmed in, imprisoned; everyone still thinks she is mad, and she's rarely left alone. She hits upon the idea of making a pilgrimage to visit holy places as a way to escape this stifling environment. Taking a female courier as her lady-in-waiting, and accompanied by a very small band of soldiers and a priest, she begins her journey. On the road they are attacked by a band of enemy soldiers but Ista is rescued by an incredibly handsome, virile soldier.
Unfortunately, all is not as it seems, and the adventures and plot twists begin. The slow beginning was more than made up for by the action-packed last two-thirds of the story.
On the positive side, this is written the way a sequel should be. I read CoC when it first came out and remembered very little. Fortunately, it wasn't necessary. PALADIN OF SOULS is almost a stand-alone book; I think enjoyment of it would be enhanced by reading CoC first, but it isn't necessary.
Also, I'm happy to say there is a definite romance in the book. I liked the hero very much, although I didn't quite see why someone so personable was still unattached at his age (approx. thirty five years old?). Bujold does a good job in believably changing the heroine from a rather wimpy, sheltered, inactive woman into someone who takes charge of her life. I really liked many of the secondary characters, especially Liss, the courier/lady-in-waiting, and the soldier Foix.
On the negative side, I didn't feel emotionally invested in the main character Ista. I couldn't identify with her and didn't care all that much what happened to her. I haven't been able to figure out why, yet.
Another thing I didn't care for was the theology. The gods play more of a role in this book than they did in CoC, and, frankly, I think a multiplicity of gods is silly--probably because when I read the Greek and Roman myths I considered them fables. So having five real gods, well, I couldn't buy it.
I heard that Bujold is planning a book around each one of the five gods, which means there are at least three more to go in this world.
On the whole, I would recommend PALADIN OF SOULS. The writing was good; the plot, interesting.--Edith (18 Sep 03)
I highly recommend PALADIN OF SOULS! I can honestly say the hardcover price is worth every cent. There wasn't anything I didn't love about this book.
PoS does start out slow, but even then, Lois McMaster Bujold's writing, especially in the building of characters, is so good that I never felt bored. I loved the originality of the plot and the real neat plot twist. I came to know and care for so many of the characters besides the main ones. And I definitely loved the romance!
I didn't have the reaction to Ista that Edith did. I think I liked Ista even more than the usual heroine because she's depicted as being closer to my age (40s), which isn't done very often in books. I really enjoyed Ista's more mature outlook during her coming of age journey, when the finds what she's made of. And it's great that an older heroine can still find love when she least expects it or even thinks of it. :-)
Like Edith, I too had forgotten most of CURSE OF CHALION. Thankfully, I can second her report on the good job done by Bujold on filling in details in PoS. Also, I had no problem with the number of Gods in the story, which could be because I grew up reading Eddings and the like. In fact, I found Bujold's handling of the God situation interesting, i.e., showing us the less than stellar side of being God-touched.--Linda (18 Sep 03)
Below par for Bujold, which means it was still pretty damn good, but I didn't adore it the way I do many of her books. I may have been distracted (not feeling too well) when reading, so I'll give it another read in a few months.--JW (13 Nov 03)
This Bujold, I'm sorry to say, didn't excite me. It probably comes down to the fact that the story started off slowly and that the heroine, Dowager Royina Ista, wasn't charismatic and didn't seem to remain an underdog for more than a minute. She was too much of an observer of other people's interesting and dramatic lives until very late in the book. Ista's sly humor and ironic eye were appreciated, though, and I did like the fact, in abstract, that Bujold chose to portray the coming of age of a heroine aged 40 instead of a youngling.
The interesting part of the worldbuilding is the religion of the land, and the gods play an active role in events. Demons have started entering the world in large numbers, and Ista is led by one of the five gods to deal with the problem.
These supernatural aspects of the story grabbed my attention the most. I loved the theological system. Having a god choose you, imbue you with power, give you a life purpose, is quite a potent wish fulfillment fantasy, isn't it? I could tolerate it only because Ista had paid her dues, so to speak, by undergoing great misery for years and years first.
There was a romance for Ista, and it was nice but not memorable. The characters were well-drawn, and almost every one had his or her place in the world changed from the beginning of the book to the end. And the end was thrilling. Getting there was a bit of a slog, though.
BTW, I didn't read THE CURSE OF CHALION, so I can report that this book can stand alone, barring the fact that I never figured out what the curse of Chalion actually was. In any case, I recommend this book mildly because the plot really picked up towards the end.--Preeti (25 Jan 04)