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4.7 out of 5 stars
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on 6 October 2004
None of the reviews of this book so far do it justice. If you've given up on fantasy because it's all the same, and it's full of women in fur bikinis or red-haired heroines with violet eyes, or kitchen boys who happen to have misplaced their kingdoms or - even worse - characters with random apostrophes in their names (Robert Jordan please step forward) - then you must give this book a try before you desert the shores of fantasy for ever.
'Paladin of Souls' is an emotionally resonant, gripping, and yet gently domestic fantasy. Ista, the protagonist, is not a typical heroine. She is a mature woman who believes her life is behind her, her family think she is mad and she knows she has committed a desperate and dammning sin for which she has yet to forgive herself. It's easier for reviewers to get to grips with Cazaril's tale in the previous book 'Curse of Chalion; his sacrifices and drives are more easily understood in terms of standard fantasy heroics, though none the less exciting and absorbing. I think Ista would be amused at how little understanding of her narrative the previous reviews show.
In the everyday piety of the realm of Chalion, Ista's rage and despair against her gods and against the restrictions of her life mark her out for a spectacular, deeply moving experience of being pushed, tugged and cajoled toward a new destiny, but it is made clear to her that she can choose for herself, to reject or to accept. Her encounter with a - literally - godforsaken individual closely connected with the most dark deed of Ista's life, is the catalyst for Ista to choose.
Don't be put off - one need nor be religious in any way to be gripped by the emotional undertow of the fight against depression and despair vying all the time with the mordant humour and spritely intelligence of Bujold's heroine. The nature of Bujold's world- building for Chalion has a particular form based on the beliefs of the inhabitants and the existence of absolute beings. It's not in any way offensive or intrusive.
I urge you to read this novel - it's really one of the best fantasy novels I've read in ages.
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on 18 April 2016
I loved the characters in the first book in this series, and at first I was disappointed to find that in this one we're following 'Mad Ista' instead. However, once I got into the story, I enjoyed where it took me. Once again, Bujold shows her skill for developing believable characters and drawing the reader into an investment in the outcome. I also love the unusual twists to her stories.
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on 26 March 2017
This is a very moving book. Underneath the surface, it says some universal things about the nature of faith, the need to surrender, and the possibility of renewal in life, no matter how old one is. One of Lois McMaster Bujold's best, and she's written a lot of good ones.
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on 8 June 2004
McMaster Bujold is a master of science fiction; in this sequel to the Curse of Chalion she shows that she is also a master of fantasy. Instead of spectacular sorcerous powers attributed to the main characters, an intricate system of five gods is behind the magic in this world. In this book, middle-aged, cynical, mad (?) dowager royina Ista makes a journey of growth and self-discovery comparable to any coming-of-age theme in other books - and oh, so much more interesting! Although not a feminist utopia, there is more room for female heroism in this world, and a more gender embracing and un-hypocritical religion than most. The book develops more evenly than its predecessor, with as prominent characters, and some surprising turns. It also features a happy ending, and an emerging love story, which may be offensive to some readers. A general theme in Bujold's books is the physically weak hero/heroine - but none of them is painfully pathetic, like Covenant the unbeliever, or similar characters. More in the inspiring vein - we can be heroes, too! Perhaps this is Harry Potter for adults, with political intrigue instead of boarding school injustice? (And we will still read Harry Potter ...)
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VINE VOICEon 6 February 2004
My first impressions of the cover and for that matter the title made me wonder if I was going to find that a book about Iselle's crazy mother as enjoyable as all her previous books. I really prefer si-fi but as loyal fan I bought it and as usual could not put it down until I finished it.
Although it is a sequel to the Curse of the Chalion, our heroine is Ista. It's her adventure with some old and some new characters and a happy ever after romantic ending. - Whenever has a Bujols book not left the reader satisfied with the outcome.
It would spoil it if I told you anything about the story but it's fantasy at its best.
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on 1 December 2004
This is just a fabulous book. Read it, even if you don't like fantasy. The characters are well-drawn and utterly believable, and the religious and cultural system is consistent. It helps to have read the first book, Curse of Chalion, which gives more of a background, but it's not necessary (though it, too, is a great read). All in all, thoroughly recommended.
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on 21 February 2006
This one sauntered up my to-read shelves with quite some anticipation attached: a loose sequel to _The Curse of Chalion_ (which I enjoyed immensely), it was the target of rave reviews when it came out in 2004, and won the Hugo award for Best Novel that year.
_Curse of Chalion_ introduced us us to a fictional world that, while hardly unique - its touchstone remains, as so often in the genre, a romanticised high medieval Europe - certainly contains a number of intriguing elements. Chief among these, and integral to the story, was the intertwining of magic and religion. There is a quartet of gods, who correspond variously to the seasons and to stages of human life (e.g. the Daughter of Spring is linked with marriage), plus a black sheep of the divine family, a half-demon aptly named the Bastard. All have their own priesthoods, devotees and rituals - and all exert very real influence in the world, frequently to the detriment of their human instruments.
_Paladin_ picks up the story of a secondary player in the previous book - that of Ista, dowager royina of Chalion. The story begins with Ista, now 40, confronting her mother's death, and recovering from the madness that has gripped her for half her life (a legacy of the _Curse_ of the previous book's title). A new world of possibilities opens up before her - but her desire to finally experience those things denied her by her long illness is stifled by the confines of her social position and the demands of her over-protective family. In desperation, she seizes upon one of the few freedoms available to her: a pilgrimage. Along the way, of course, she finds that life, and the gods, haven't finished with her yet.
This is essentially, then, a coming-of-middle-age story - measured, thoughtful, and life-affirming. Where Paladin is less consistently surprising and gripping than its predecessor, the firm sense of character and touches of wit come to the fore (Ista's barbed exchanges with the Bastard are brilliant). Ista is a delightful character - warm, determined, intelligent, and with a great line in wry self-deprecation - and seeing her learn to make choices and take control of her life again is the most enjoyable aspect of the book.
The downside is that so much time is spent with Ista that we rather lose some of the other - equally interesting - characters along the way. Consequently, some of the pathos of the main plot is squandered, and the villainous side of things is shortchanged in the extreme. It is altogether a lighter read than its predecessor - deliberately so, since most of the emotional pain is in the past, and its themes are healing, acceptance, and choosing one's destiny... but this, coupled with the lack of diversity in the narrative viewpoints, did mean a slightly diminished impact, for this reader at least.
A little longer than it needs to be, less richly-woven than it perhaps could have been, _Paladin_ is still a highly enjoyable - and, at times, engagingly whimsical - read.
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on 21 March 2006
This book is the follow-up to The Curse Of Chalion although that book drew to a satisfactory close and this book does work as a stand-alone.
It focuses on the mother of the ruler of Chalion, the Royina Ista, who most people think is mad. However she's not mad, she is God-touched, and this has affected her life, along with the blight of the curse that was on her family until it was lifted three years before by Cazaril (the events in the previous book).
Ista has major cabin fever being stuck in a fortress with lots of sycophants who think she is potty so she arranges to go on a pilgrimage and gathers a band of people around her to assist her - a priest of the Bastard order (the religion has five deities and the Bastard is one), a young female courier rider, Liss, and two guards. Their pilgrimage starts off OK but then things start to go wrong. Ista is kidnapped, her band is split up and eventually she is rescued by a rather charming nobleman, Arhys.
It was at this point that the story diverged from the direction I thought it would take. We were primed to know that Ista hasn't experienced love for years, has written it out of her life, and when Arhys appears on the scene and sweeps her off her feet (literally) I thought, "ah, so here we go, a romance." But no, Arhys is married and then we discover, rather surprisingly, that he is also dead! The second half of the book is taken up with the battle between the inhabitants of Poriphors (of which Arhys is leader) and the evil Rocknari peoples - but this battle is barely a physical one, it is mainly a battle in the world of demons. Arhys is kept from being entirely dead by a demon in his wife; one of Ista's guards also has a demon; and they are fighting against an incredibly strong woman who has lots of demons at her command.
As a counterpoint to all these demons, the Quintarian religion so ably put together by Bujold makes an important contribution to this story. That's one of the things I enjoyed the most - such a creative mind to work out all the different facets of this religion and to portray the confusion, disappointment and disillusionment with the gods as well as the miracles that they do - occasionally.
Ista as a character was also interesting. I didn't like her much in The Curse of Chalion as she was so passive and... well... wet. In this story she starts out like that but then takes charge of events as things move on. She realises that she has the experience and understanding to make sense of the events, and although very anti the gods of her religion she comes to see that she must allow them to do their worst through her in order to save those about whom she has grown to care.
The book ends very satisfactorily with Ista even finding her own romance and with the demons of Roknari beaten back. There are hints of future battles, though, which I hope suggest another book in this series. I'll certainly be buying it.
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on 29 July 2013
Paladin of Souls, like most everything else Bujold has written, is superb. It is a book about thwarted expectations, both for the reader and the characters. For the reader, there are plenty of genre-savvy plot twists. For the characters, there are questions of how to go on living when life has brought bitterness, about what hope or love or destiny might be found in the middle of despair. As with The Curse of Chalion, the book has a fantastic protagonist and a great ensemble of secondary characters. It also has excellent pacing and theological sophistication. The "Bastard," one of the five gods of Chalion, seems to contribute to some of the best character moments in the book, often seeming like a character himself.

Paladin of Souls is a sequel to The Curse of Chalion in the sense that it follows that book chronologically, but it focuses on a different character as its protagonist, a character who gets relatively little attention in the first book but who opens up beautifully here. Before reading this, I would have said no if you'd asked me if I wanted to read a Chalion book that didn't have Cazaril as the main character. However, now that I've read this, I wouldn't want Paladin of Souls to be about anyone but Ista. She's amazing. Read this book and find out just how awesome a female protagonist can be when written as a complex, full-fledged person rather than just using the small palette that so many sub-par authors use when writing female characters.
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on 23 January 2005
There's a lot of dross published in the fantasy genre, so it's a joy to come across a book (or pair of books) so satisfying and excellently written.
The main character, Ista, is interestingly complex and three-dimensional, and even the religion of this world manages to be engaging and convincing - a most unusual feature of this kind of book.
My only problem with this author is that I can read'em faster than she can write'em. I'll still buy'em as fast as she can produce'em!
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